NEW YORK (Billboard) - When the New York Dolls formed in 1971, their singular brand of rock 'n' roll elicited strong opinions. "People said, 'They're the best band,' or 'They're the worst band,'" frontman David Johansen recalls. "It was every kind of extreme reaction to what we were doing with music."
There's no denying that the Dolls' raw, provocative sound, combined with their gender-bending glam image and nonchalant attitude, had an impact long after their breakup in 1977.
Years later, acts including the Ramones and Kiss would claim the New York Dolls as an influence. Today, their made-up faces appear on T-shirts worn by the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus and college-age hipsters. But even though the band essentially defined and prefigured punk music, it never really found commercial success.
In 2004, the three remaining Dolls (drummer Billy Murcia died during the band's first run; guitarist Johnny Thunders and drummer Jerry Nolan passed away in the interim) reunited to perform at London's Meltdown festival, at singer-songwriter Morrissey's request. Bassist Arthur "Killer" Kane died from leukemia months after the gig, but Johansen, guitarist Sylvain Sylvain and the three newest members went on to release "One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This" in 2006 on Roadrunner Records.
Manager Ron Stone says that even though he felt "One Day" was a solid album, it took the band time to "get its sea legs." "It didn't do what I think they hoped it would do, which was to kind of energize this particular generation about who they are," he says.
At this point, the new lineup has been together almost as long as the first -- a feat, considering its rocky past. With the May 5 release of "'Cause I Sez So" on Rhino Entertainment's Atco Records, the Dolls might get their commercial due.
Rhino senior director of marketing Michael Kachko describes the Dolls as "more of a hip band than a hit band," noting that most people know the group's name but probably couldn't name two of its songs. "I think a New York Dolls album coming out excites a certain group of people, but not necessarily everybody," he says. "But I believe if another group listens to the record, they're going to get hooked."
"'Cause I Sez So" finds the Dolls revisiting its roots in a few ways. The set reunites them with Todd Rundgren, who produced the 1973 debut, and also features a tamer, reggae-infused rerecording of the song "Trash" from the band's first album. On the night of the album release the band will perform at designer John Varvatos' store in Lower Manhattan, which occupies the former site of defunct club CBGB, where the Dolls played in the '70s.
The group will tour in mid-May, with Rundgren joining on several dates.
Stone says the live shows are key because they'll give the younger crowd a chance to see the band for the first time. "I think for younger fans, it's this fascination; they've heard about this band that existed in conversation for 20-some odd years, and that other bands constantly are crediting them," he says.
But even as the band sets out to connect with new fans, it's clear that the Dolls still don't care what anyone thinks. "We don't really pay that much attention to what anyone else does," Johansen says. "We just have this idea of what rock 'n' roll should be and how it should swing, and that's how we play."
Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters