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Viva Dictators

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Album Review

Remember back in 2001 when the Strokes were the flavor of the month and every rock scribe in Christendom was praising the Is This It Kids for "bringing back New York rock & roll"? The grand irony of all the ruckus was that New York's greatest extant rock band, the Dictators — a group whose "You talkin' to me?" attitude and muscular blare captures the sound of the five boroughs far better than the Strokes could ever dream — released their first studio album in 23 years, D.F.F.D., less than a month after Is This It, but hardly anyone seemed to notice. And the shame of that was, as D.F.F.D. proved, the Dictators had not only survived that two-decade lay-off after Bloodbrothers intact, but had the chops, the smarts, and the swagger to make the strongest album of their career. Viva Dictators, recorded during a pair of hometown shows staged in support of the album's release, shows they hadn't lost a bit of their on-stage skills, either; if Viva Dictators lacks a bit of the goofball energy of 1981's New York, New York (aka F**k 'Em If They Can't Take a Joke), for sheer rock action, this disc is all but peerless. Handsome Dick Manitoba was always a great frontman, but by the first half-decade of 2000 he's become a good singer to boot, and he leads this band with gloriously smirking aplomb from front to back, while idea man Andy Shernoff handles the trickier songs with straightforward strength while holding down the bottom end on bass. Ross the Boss and Scott "Top Ten" Kempner are one muscular guitar team on these tracks, and J.P. "Thunderbolt" Patterson ranks in the top echelon of drummers who've kept time for the Dictators over the years. And talk about a set list — the cream of D.F.F.D. sits side by side with genius tunes from The Dictators Go Girl Crazy! and Bloodbrothers (nothing from Manifest Destiny made the cut, but what would you drop to make space for "Young, Fast and Scientific"?), and if you were going to compile a "Dictators Greatest Hits," this track listing would fill the bill just fine. And when these guys roar through "Who Will Save Rock and Roll?," it's hard not to think that the Dictators could easily handle the job if someone would just give them half a chance. Which, after Room on Fire, is a lot more than anyone would say for the Strokes.


Formed: 1974 in New York, NY

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Formed in 1974, N.Y.C.'s Dictators were one of the finest and most influential proto-punk bands to walk the earth. Alternately reveling in and satirizing the wanton excesses of a rock & roll lifestyle and lowbrow culture (e.g., wrestling, TV, fast food), with their world-view defined by bassist/keyboardist and former fanzine publisher (Teenage Wasteland Gazette) Andy (occasionally Adny) Shernoff and renegade rock critic/theorist Richard Meltzer, the Dictators played loud, fast rock & roll fueled...
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