Brechtian Punk Cabaret.
The Dresden Dolls are vocalist/pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione; a pair of talented musicians who formed their present incarnation after Brian witnessed Amanda performing solo at a Hallowe'en party in 2000 in their hometown of Boston, Massachusetts, USA. They defy genre, describing themselves as 'Brechtian punk cabaret' although frequently cited by others as belonging to the less exciting and original genres of punk, cabaret and/or alternative rock. 'Yes Virginia' is the follow-up to their self-titled debut album, eagerly anticipated by fans, many of whom heard the songs performed live prior to the release.
The opening track, 'Sex Changes' provides a good example of what to expect from the Dresden Dolls. Piano and drums are combined to produce a sound high in tension and energy. The pace is slightly jerky and off-beat, but that only speeds up the listener's rapid realisation that this music is different from most, and in a good way. Amanda's voice is quirky yet strong and tuneful, and perfectly suited to her inventive lyrics, which have many layers of meaning and present the listener with a plethora of possible interpretation. Tracks such as 'Dirty Business' will be loved by girls everywhere who edge on instability; whilst 'Shores of California' expresses frequently-thought sentiments about men and women in amusing terms and with a catchy tune.
The third track, 'Modern Moonlight', is a little disappointing. Although on the surface it features all the Dolls' hallmarks as outlined in the above paragraph, it is too brash and noisy to be pleasant to listen to, and its pace and emotion feel forced. It's as if the band are trying too hard to fulfil what is expected of them and their sound; and one can be forgiven for wondering whether it was written and performed solely to fill up space on the album. Thankfully track four, 'My Alcoholic Friends', is a return to form and has a true cabaret or even musical feel, combined with humorous lyrics. The eleventh track, 'Mandy Goes To Med School' occupies a similar vein, and its easy to imagine the two being performed on stage as part of a twisted musical.
'Yes Virginia' also features several slower songs, largely featuring Amanda and her piano making a greater contribution than Brian's drums. Despite their thought-provoking lyrics, tracks such as 'First Orgasm' and 'Me and the Minibar' lack the appeal of their more upbeat counterparts and it may be tempting to skip through them on subsequent listens. Those slower tracks which feature a greater building of sound and pace, such as 'Delilah' and 'Mrs O' fare better, but they remain a little less interesting and special than the album's faster paced songs (in something of a contrast to the band's first album, which features many interesting yet slower-paced tracks).
The Dolls' second studio album is certainly more polished than its predecessor, and has a more consistent sound despite a larger variation in the pace of its songs. Granted, a few of the tracks here are a little hit and miss, and perhaps the band could have done better by releasing a shorter yet stronger album by dropping some of the weaker tracks; but there is no hiding the fact the Dresden Dolls are two very talented individuals with the skill and courage to try something new in a music scene flooded with sound-alike guitar bands. They and their sound are intelligent, witty, thought-provoking and above all, original.