The Dresden Dolls made a big impact when they broke out of the Boston local music/arts scene because of their charismatic live performances and the way they combined theatrical piano music with intensely raw lyrics to pioneer/popularise the genre of punk cabaret. It was always going to be interesting to see how they would follow up and build on such a unique start. This is their 2nd studio album (or 3rd if you count A Is For Accident) following a gap of several years spent touring and building up a strong following.
Yes, Virginia comes from a reply in a newspaper printed in response to a little girl asking if there was a Santa Claus. For this album, The Dresden Dolls held a competition where their fans had to create artwork inspired by the different songs. The winners are featured in the CD booklet. Rather than featuring all new songs, this album features several older songs such as Sex Changes and Mandy Goes To Med School which didn't make it to the initial albums and have now been reworked for inclusion here. (In fact, Mrs. O was originally on A is for Accident). To be honest, it's those songs I prefer as I think they have a stronger impact.
Musically it seems like the band have opened up and have a more complex subtle sound and Amanda seems to have broadened her lyrical concerns beyond the intensely personal. I think how you feel about this album is in part, determined about you felt about the original album. If you enjoyed the raw emotional impact of songs like Girl Anachronism or Good Day, you may find this album a bit too staid and mature (especially in the middle parts). However, if you found their original music a bit too histrionic and quirky (and I know there are people out there who thought that) then you may welcome the maturity and the move away from self-obsession. Personally, I'm still on the fence --- there are some brilliant songs on the album but I don't know if it's down to how fresh they sounded when they first came out but I feel this album lacks the impact of their earlier efforts.
I think it will be make or break time when they release the follow up, provisionally titled No, Virginia (which once again, is going to be a mix of rarities and live cover versions rather than wholly new songs). With Amanda due to release a solo album and Brian off playing/touring with other bands, I can't help wondering about the future of the band. Is Yes, Virginia the sound of a band drifting apart and drifting into compromise or is it the sound of a band regrouping and evolving? Or to put it bluntly, is this the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN MAY 2008.
NOTE: Unfortunately I was proved right and The Dresden Dolls have now split up.