Yes Virginia . . .likewise offers a tougher take on the Dolls’ trademark sound. They make do with the usual minimal back-up (Viglione overdubs some bass and guitar), but this time it jells into a full-band effect. Credit that to the more aggressive playing, and to producers Sean Slade and Paul Kolderie, who can bring out the best in a band without ruining the live feel of a recording. Palmer’s fondness for show tunes has been pretty much phased out, so there isn’t any “Coin Operated Boy” here; the slower tracks are more in the vein of classic torch ballads, a fitting vehicle for the smokier side of her voice. Enough topical references are dropped to convey a general sense of unrest and disenchantment with the state of pop culture. And if you’re looking for glimpses of Palmer’s personal life, “My Alcoholic Friends” is the sort of sing-along that Ray Davies wrote in his looser days. No surprise that she names “First Orgasm” as her most personal song to date. That would be the one about masturbating in a computer chair.
“It was actually the chair you’re sitting in right now,” she tells me when we meet at the Dolls’ Roxbury apartment a few days before the show. “Believe me, nothing is more painful than having to arch your back in a chair like that. I think Brian walked in a few times when I was whacking off.” At this Viglione’s ears prick up. He allows that he’s used his computer chair for similar purposes. “What do you do, look at Internet porn?” she asks. “Of course,” he replies. “What do you think I’m going to do, read e-mails from fans?”
Palmer admits that last spring and summer were a bit of a rock-star period for her. The Dresden Dolls were on the road opening for Nine Inch Nails and playing large festivals like Glastonbury in England and Coachella in California. Last year, at the Phoenix’s Best Music Poll celebration, she raised a few eyebrows by rushing the stage naked and kissing Kaiser Chiefs lead singer Ricky Wilson. She tried the same stunt at the Glastonbury Festival, this time with Conor Oberst as her quarry, only to get pulled off the stage by bouncers. (She recalls that Oberst seemed to enjoy it.)
What did she learn from those experiences? “I think she learned not to make a freaking ass of herself,” Viglione suggests. Palmer counters, “I learned it was okay to have fun. Really, we were playing these festivals where it was supposed to be crazy and fun, and nothing like that was going on. It made me feel the way I felt in college — wildly disappointed. I had to go and stir some shit up.”
That would explain where songs like “My Alcoholic Friends” and “Me & the Minibar” came from. But both are less about alcohol than about life within a demi-monde. “Minibars are depressing things anyway,” Palmer reflects. “It means you’re alone in a hotel room with nothing to do. I have actually curbed my drinking significantly over the course of my 20s. But there seem to be dark sides to everyone’s personality that come out around sex and drinking. We’ve all dealt with the pushing and pulling between drinking, work, and hangovers: if I’m not on the wagon, every drink I take is going to be a decision. In terms of my life and songwriting, heartbreak was off the drawing board this time. So drinking came along as this thing that said, ‘I’m here, I’m this nice little conflict you can deal with in song.’ ”