The only constant on Doll by Doll’s four albums is Scottish singer/guitarist Jackie Leven, who began as the leader of a quartet and wound up its only member. On the first three LPs, his presence is so commanding — thanks to a deep, rich, expressive voice that leaps into falsetto or descends to an ominous whisper as the mood strikes — that everyone around him takes a back seat. An impressive but flawed debut, Remember needlessly limits Doll by Doll’s obvious electric strength. Although some of the seven tracks rock out, the group’s folk roots place song before the performance, occasionally blunting the excitement. A sophisticated work that serves mainly to introduce Leven’s startling voice. The six long songs on Revenge of Memory, comprising almost the entirety of Remember, were cleanly recorded at a club show in Sheffield in 1977 and wax from soulful (“Chances”) to Who-like guitar improvisation (“More Than Human”) to an uncanny approximation of that year’s model of Elvis Costello (“Sleeping Partners”).
After some personnel changes, a reconstituted Doll by Doll made the fine Gypsy Blood. With all restraint lifted and the emotional intensity cranked up high, tunes like “The Human Face” and “Teenage Lightning” are simply magnificent — crystal clear, intricately arranged and full of rock fire. Leven’s voice and poetic lyrics invest the record with dramatic grandeur. A bit overblown, but a real stunner.
Long delayed by contractual problems, Doll by Doll suffers from creeping relaxation. The flame burns less brightly; although songs are strong and affecting, the reach isn’t as expansive, and the results not as attention-grabbing.
In partnership with vocalist Helen Turner, Leven made Grand Passion using studio sidemen, attempting something in a different vein. Unfortunately, the experiment — whatever it may have been — failed. Turner’s singing is like bad Nico, and the songs are filled with pretentious and obnoxious lyrics. Musically adequate but totally unappealing. Doll by Doll played its last gig in late ’84.
Years later, Leven rejoined former bandmates Jo Shaw (guitar, vocals) and Dave McIntosh (drums) in Concrete Bulletproof Invisible, a promising but short-lived rock quartet with ex-Pistol bassist Glen Matlock. The nifty title track of CBI’s 12-inch Big Tears EP lifts the chorus from “White Light/White Heat” but has its own ideas as well; the other tracks (two in the UK, three in the US) sound a bit forced and clunky.
Leven, in various combinations (and in one case under a pseudonym) went on to release loads of solo albums until his death in 2011.