The Dresden Dolls

No, Virginia (Roadrunner)

No, Virginia, a collection of B-sides, previously unreleased material, and covers from the Boston-based cabaret-punk duo the Dresden Dolls, starts off with a typically erratic bang. On "Dear Jenny," singer/pianist Amanda Palmer careens through a laundry list of unrelated themes on a course nonsensical to all but her. Instead of shuffling her songs with a stage magician's practiced hand, Palmer plays 52 pickup, the better to let the mess without give expression to the mess within.

But it's when Palmer is most in control that No, Virginia becomes most compelling. When she drops the rollicking schizo-girl mask and simply delivers, as in the quiet ode to regret "Boston," she shakes off the illusion of the scared little girl plaintively wailing for attention and becomes an ominous woman whose words demand it. Palmer's unbalanced musical whirlwind may be dangerous, but when she slows down, choosing each word and note with the deliberate severity of a knife cut, it becomes even more frightening.