The name Dresden Dolls may conjure up images of bombed-out broken buildings and creepy Brothers Quay-esque marionettes. The packaging of the band’s second full-length, Yes, Virginia, plays up those misconceptions, but the music is the exact opposite, favoring instead a more carnival-ish approach to the theme. Jumpy piano, played by vocalist Amanda Palmer, pours over each song while her girlish and well-produced voice howls about sex changes and alcoholism. Sometimes it’s hard to take seriously a band that bases its identity on a shtick — but it doesn’t seem like the members of the Dresden Dolls are much interested in being taken seriously.
It’s the piano that does it, really. Without the piano, the Dresden Dolls would sound like followers of ’90s alternative female stars such as Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos. And, yes, I am aware that the latter was a big fan of the piano, but the Dresden Dolls use the piano for camp-value, not to wrench out emotion. In “First Orgasm” — a homage to morning masturbation — Palmer sings, “I make some coffee/ I eat some Rice Chex/ And then I sit down/ And check my inbox.” I can’t think of anything less serious than a song about Chex and e-mail, but maybe that’s just me.
Supposedly, the members of the Dresden Dolls are influenced by Weimar culture, especially cabaret and burlesque. But apart from the obviousness of their name and the painted faces and striped tights they wear while performing live, drawing such a comparison seems difficult. Perhaps their attitude, which implies that everything is ridiculous, is what they’ve taken from the past. A sort of “Is That All There Is?” approach (“Let’s break out the booze and have a ball, if that’s all there is.”). Considering all the references to alcohol in the liner notes, it seems likely. Their quirky and specific route seems to have taken them this far, but it’s hard to say how long the road will be in the end.
Listen to “Backstabber”