The second New York Dolls album, originally released in 1974, takes its title from the autobiography of actress Diana Barrymore, to whom the record is dedicated. Even more of a Technicolor glam slam meltdown than their eponymous debut, “Too Much Too Soon” drags itself, kicking and screaming, in two opposing directions. The self-penned songs could be seen as a continuation of their previous work: admittedly, there are subtle new shadings, such as the bluesy, blowsy harmonica on “It’s Too Late” and the braying brass outro to “Human Being”. Nevertheless, the bubblegum and glitter of “Babylon” and transvestite anthem “Who Are The Mystery Girls?” are instantly recognisable as the work of the band Bob Harris quietly derided on national television as “mock rock”. Compared with, say, the contemporaneous work of fellow pantomime aficionados Kiss, for example, it’s abundantly clear why one band managed to convey their shtick in a language acceptable to middle America’s enormodomes and the other, uh, didn’t. On the other hand, there are the elaborately staged trash epics, frequently covers, that perhaps betray the influence of the album’s producer, Shangri-Las associate Shadow Morton: one pace forward for the dubious exoticism of “Stranded In The Jungle” and “Bad Detective”.
Sonically, this is another disappointing Vinyl Lovers reissue. It’s, um, hard on the ears, right from the opening wolf whistle, and a consistently shrill listen. Whatever alternatives exist in the current vinyl marketplace, I’d advise investigating them first before shelling out for this version.
If you’re going to at least make a grasp at greatness, what better place to do so than on the first track of your debut album? For me, the New York Dolls have never bettered “Personality Crisis” (a case of too much, too soon indeed). For once their lipstick-smudged, tattered appropriation of glam rock actually amounts to something more than the sum of its parts, forging something grimy and potent.
“Looking For A Kiss” is leering, catty and sleazy, tottering along uncertainly in its stack heels. I can’t listen to it without thinking of both Whispering Bob’s “Old Grey Whistle Test” putdown (“Mock rock!”) and the Sex Pistols savagely laying into the band on “New York”. With David Johansen’s pouting delivery and its drawling, lazy saxes “Lonely Planet Boy” sounds like a Ziggy Stardust parody, and even when supposedly convulsed with bloodlust (“Frankenstein”) the band sound more like they’re playing at pantomime. “Subway Train” – later covered by Dolls uberfan Morrissey – at least has some Stones-y swagger about it, and a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Pills” is rendered yet more colourful by the circumstances surrounding the band (“Got me taking this junk against my will”…hmmm).
In retrospect the choice of Todd Rundgren as producer seems a baffling one. His talent for pastiche knows no bounds, but presented with something as shockingly fresh as the Dolls he seems out of his depth, perhaps explaining the murky sonics found on both this vinyl reissue and the CD. It’s certainly a world away from Vinyl Lovers’ ear-syringingly sharp pressing of the band’s second album, but scarcely any closer to enjoyable because of it.