The best Dresden Dolls songs display the duo’s unique Brechtian punk cabaret sound and gripping lyrics from singer Amanda Palmer. The Dolls – Palmer on keyboards and Brian Viglione on drums – formed in Boston in the early 2000s and earned a sizable cult following thanks to two major releases on Roadrunner Records.
The band went on hiatus for a couple years, but as they prepare to embark on a new American tour, let’s count down the 10 best Dresden Dolls songs.
Best Dresden Dolls Songs
#10: Dirty Business
A track from the Dolls’ album Yes, Virginia…, “Dirty Business” employs colorful words to paint a picture of a girl “who tells you she’s bipolar just to make you trust her.” The song’s stop-and-start rhythm is a highlight, its explosiveness serving as a perfect contrast to the two low-key ballads that surround it on the record.
“Failure has made you so cruel,” Amanda snarls in this apparent attack on a jealous member of a band. “You only sleep with girls who say they like your music,” she adds, before becoming more light-hearted with the lyric, “Don’t tell me not to reference my songs within my songs.”
#8: The Gardener
The Dolls played “The Gardener” live for some time before recording a proper version. The sparse instrumentation creates an eerie, somber mood and the track features two rarities among Dresden Dolls songs, bass guitar and background vocals by Viglione. Though “The Gardener” might have been out of place had it appeared on Yes, Virginia…, it stands as the best track on the B-sides compilation No, Virginia…
#7: Christopher Lydon
Taken from the Dolls’ early indie record A is for Accident, this song is a fictional account of becoming obsessed with NPR radio host Christopher Lydon. Palmer sings about finally getting through to Lydon on the air and professing her love but getting shot down. The juxtaposition of the funny lyrics – “My friends go out drinking and having fun / I stay at home with my headphones on” – with a super-serious melody works really well.
#6: Missed Me
This track from the group’s self-titled debut is one of the band’s more theatrical songs on record and when performed live. The song’s dark lyrics are balanced with a playful, mischievous tone in one of the Dolls’ most unique songs.
#5: Girl Anachronism
This is the song that most typifies the “punk” part of their sound. It’s an energetic song with lightning-fast lyrics that Palmer sometimes has a hard time keeping up with in concert: “I was too precarious, removed as a Caesarian / Behold the world’s worst accident / I am the girl anachronism.”
#4: Sex Changes
The slickly-produced opener on Yes, Virginia… is one of the songs that best exemplifies the Dresden Dolls’ music. Viglione adds nifty percussive elements – creating a “pitter-patter” sound when Palmer sings those words, for instance – and Amanda aggressively enunciates each syllable over her thumping piano melody.
#3: Coin-Operated Boy
The Dolls have never really had a hit single, but this one is as close as any, as it served as the song that introduced many fans to the band. Palmer sings that she wants a coin-operated boy “made of plastic and elastic” because she can’t make relationships work out with real guys. The quirky novelty song includes an repetitive section in which it sounds like the CD is skipping, just to throw the listener off a bit.
Palmer does melancholy as well as anyone. In “Delilah,” she sings about the unfortunate title character, whom Palmer calls “an unrescuable schizo” and “the princess of denial.” While Delilah seems to be stuck in a worthless relationship, Palmer offers brutally honest advice: “And you thought you could change the world by opening your legs / Well it isn’t very hard / Try kicking them instead.”
#1: Half Jack
This six-minute track from the Dolls’ self-titled record is a painful realization of the fact that no matter how much you may want to distance yourself from one of your parents, you are still “half Jill and half Jack.”
“It might destroy me but I’d sacrifice my body / If it meant I’d get the Jack part out,” Palmer sings with desperation. In concert the song approaches ten minutes in length as Viglione adds an intense opening drum solo and fans sing along with Palmer’s song-ending wails. “Half Jack” remains the best Dresden Dolls song.
Best Dresden Dolls Songs: Sources