The Keef to David Johansen‘s Mick in the New York Dolls, Syl is the one who makes the engine hum. And as there are but the two sole surviving Dolls, that’s more important in 2010 than it was two decades ago when they first blasted upon the scene.
I was playing some of his solo work today and flashed back to a review I wrote in November 1998 for Consumable Online; his albums had just been released on CD. At the time I surmised that the Dolls would never reform (I am very happy to have been proven wrong!) and hoped that he would resume his own career since Johansen obviously intended to do the same.
The live Dolls reunion a few years ago and the subsequent album One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This both blew me away with a sound both classic and fresh. I wasn’t a big fan of the next Dolls album Cause I Sez So, and their recent live shows seem to use the same set list that they’ve been doing for a while. But I also believe that when good bands satisfy their outside urges they can bring some great stuff back to the table.
The always-busy Steve Conte is doing that right now with The Crazy Truth. Syl is doing the same thing in Batusis with Cheetah Chrome of The Dead Boys. Maybe that will make the Dolls stronger. Maybe not.
But no matter what happens, these Sylvain Sylvain albums rule.
After leaving the New York Dolls, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain released a couple of very good pop records that somehow got lost in the shuffle. When no third record materialized, it was a disappointment but not a big surprise – after all, post-punk pop was finding no welcome mat in the synth-happy 1980s, and even David Johansen had to whore himself out as Buster Poindexter just to put food on the table.
Imagine my delight when Fishhead Records not only released some of Sylvain’s previous songs on one CD (Sylvain Sylvain…..In Teenage News), but a brand new collection of twelve songs! Adding to the good news was the announcement that Sylvain was hitting the club circuit again, band in tow.
He’s still a pop guy with 50’s doo-wop roots glowing through his songs. The title track, an ode to his lost bandmates, is reminiscent of Little Anthony and The Imperials, while “Another Heart Needs Mending” mines the same sock-hop vocal territory. But grit abounds too, thanks to a crack band of backup musicians, among them Frankie Infante and Fuzztones Rudy Protrudi and John Carlucci. “Oh Honey” is pure Bo Diddley, and “I’m Your Man” is a finger-poppin’ rework that jumps out of the speakers.
Although proud of his Dolls roots, reading Sylvain interviews gives a strong clue that a reunion will never happen, mostly due to a fractured relationship with Johansen. Still, Sylvain has no qualms with the great songs they wrote; three are included here, among them a spirited rendition of “Trash” (a song also recently covered by soulmate Gilby Clarke). And only a former Doll could write a “Sleepwalk” style instrumental and call it “Forgotten Panties”! Hopefully this signals the beginning of the second half of Sylvain Sylvain’s career.
Syl’s MySpace site
A good Creem interview from 2005
Yet another from 2006, courtesy Brooklyn Vegan