60 Foot Dolls

Douglas Wolk reviews 60 Foot Dolls' album "The Big 3".

Published January 27, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Spinal Tap, as you may remember,
weren't just a lunkhead heavy-metal
band, they continually reinvented
themselves as lunkhead practitioners of
whatever style happened to be in fashion,
from Merseybeat to psychedelia to glam.
So in the wake of a recent wave of British
guitar-rock bands like Oasis, Elastica and
Blur, the appearance of the tuneful,
hard-rocking, utterly derivative Welsh
trio 60 Ft Dolls is a little suspicious.
Could boyish, short-haired
singer-songwriters Richard Parfitt and
Mike Cole secretly be David St. Hubbins
and Nigel Tufnel with facelifts and new
leather jackets?

The evidence on "The Big 3" is pretty
strong. For starters, there's the way
Parfitt's thuggish rasp and Cole's sweeter
lilt occasionally snap together into
dead-on harmonies, as if they'd been
doing it for 30 years. The huge dopey
riffs that power songs like "New Loafers"
are worthy of "Hell Hole." Even more
Tap-like is the conviction with which the
Dolls sing mindbogglingly dumb lyrics. In
1997, it's probably not permissible to
rhyme "be all right" with "stay the night"
under any circumstances, but Parfitt
tears into the line with such a convincing
approximation of passion that he nearly
pulls it off (too bad he runs into "it would
be OK/if I could stay" a few seconds
later). By the time he sings "Mary goes
round, drugs made Mary vague/See how
she cries my little methadone maid," it's
clear that tuning out the words is a good

Another hallmark of the Parfitt-Cole
team, and Tufnel-St. Hubbins, is a
classicism that verges on plagiarism.
Nearly every song here is in
straightforward verse-chorus-bridge
form, and in these days of
post-everything structure, it's kind of
quaint to hear a good old-fashioned
middle eight. But the Dolls' idea of
originality is ripping off Beatles songs
that Oasis hasn't gotten to yet: the "you
can talk to me" bit from "Hey Bulldog"
becomes the chorus of "Talk To Me," and
"Terminal Crash Fear" has a few lines
lifted almost verbatim from "She Came In
Through The Bathroom Window." Their
idea of stretching out is ripping off Van
Morrison songs instead.

The Dolls get a surprising amount of
mileage out of their dogged rock 'n' roll
atavism - "The Big 3's" guitar sound
mixes a nicely grungy crunch with a
hair-metal squeal, and the hooks mostly
stick where they're supposed to. But it
only takes them so far. In fact, the
biggest clue to 60 Ft Dolls' true identity
is their Tap-like absolute reliance on the
power of clichi: Their songs rock
because they're obvious. You've heard
every whammy-bar-waggling,
distortion-pedal-tapping move on here
before, so your reptile brain is already
primed to dig it. Tonight they're gonna
rock you tonight.

By Douglas Wolk

Douglas Wolk is the author of the books "Reading Comics" and "James Brown's Live at the Apollo," and has contributed to a variety of periodicals, including The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, and The Believer.

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