The Dandy Warhols have had one hell of an interesting relationship with the music industry. They’re a band who literally rose to fame by being apathetic toward it, and that sense of nonchalance has been carrying them ever since. The band made a recent decision to stop releasing anything commercially appealing, choosing to only cater to their tried and true fan base rather than attract new listeners. Well, at least that’s what every other music critic would have you think. Thank goodness I’m not one of them.
Music critics lightly started backlashing the Dandys after 2003’s Welcome to the Monkey House, but really let loose after Odditorium or Warlords of Mars in 2005. I’ll admit that Odditorium… doesn’t have the immediacy of the group’s earlier albums, but by no means is it a bad listen. If anything, it’s a mishmash album that let the band explore the more groove based, psychedelic side of their personality while also throwing in some catchy curveballs like “The New Country” and “Smoke It.” That’s really the thing with the Dandy Warhols; they are consistently pushing genre limitations and expanding what they can do with the pieces they are composed of. This was especially true of …Earth to the Dandy Warhols. Whether it’s the funky Stones aping on “Welcome to the Third World” or the reverb stomp of “Now You Love Me,” the band is relentless with experimentation of their formula.
This seems to be what critics loathe more than anything else when it comes to leader Courtney Taylor-Taylor. “How could somebody who appears to care so little push his band so far past the slacker anthems that came to define them? It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t agree with his personality, so therefore something must not be genuine.” Being that the singer hasn’t changed his personality, I guess critics think the music is the lie. This looks to be the reason for constant polarized-to-poor reviews the Dandy albums have gotten over the last seven years, and their brand new offering is sadly only getting a slightly better reaction.
This Machine, in my opinion, is the best and most consistent record the band has made since Welcome to the Monkey House. It’s a tad darker than the group’s predecessors, but far easier to consume with its mere 45 minutes. The biggest problem with the LP is that the songs don’t necessarily sound like they belong together, but that’s not too big of a deal when you realize that all the songs are actually great. What’s even better is that the Dandys are as succinct as they’ll ever be, and this seems to be a conscious decision after two albums of excessive noodling. At this point, it’s safe to say that the band is generally better when it forgoes the psychedelic leanings in favor of more pop-oriented tendencies.
Breaking down This Machine itself, the only superfluous track might be the first. “Sad Vacation” was a band collaboration and, while it’s not a bad song, it doesn’t really go anywhere. It comes off as a b-side more than lead-in album track, and the album would benefit from starting with “The Autumn Carnival.” The vibe of the song is fantastic and says more about the album than the punk feeling of the first track. While everybody keeps calling the record ‘goth-y,’ this reviewer has yet to hear the influence. If the term is being used to describe a general feeling of foreboding melancholy, then I guess it’s a spot on description.
“Enjoy Yourself” is a definite highlight in that it actually sounds like the band is having fun (not goth), even having Taylor^2 put on a deep dark voice for it (kinda goth). Next up is “Alternative Power to the People,”an instrumental that miraculously stays entertaining for its entirety, which isn’t an easy thing for anyband to do. Sadly, the following track blows it out of the water and is probably the best song on the record. “Well They’re Gone” is stunningly poignant and beautiful, even though it reminds me of that corny Vitamin C ‘graduation song’ every single time. “Rest Your Head” is typical of the band, but there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. It sounds like a darker update to the dreamier “Sleep” from 13 Tales…
“16 Tons” is the cover which every detractor says ruins the album, but it’s honestly a fun update that critics might be taking in the wrong light. It’s right in line with the Dandian ‘don’t give a f***’ mentality; taking a serious song of oppression and giving it a full on boost of irony for our modern “occupied’ times. Plus, it brings back those excellent horns the band occasionally fancies. I will happily say that “I Am Free” is my current favorite, even though it pretty much finds a groove and sticks with it for its duration. It’s the most optimistic of the album, and has been stuck in my head for days (so that really says enough).
“Seti vs the WOW Signal” is goofy, catchy, and surprisingly wasn’t written by The Apples in Stereo. After this, “Don’t Shoot She Cried” and “Slide” round out the album with some lingering lengths, but they don’t bother anybody and don’t ask much of the listener. If you’ve made it this far, the tracks are a breeze and act as an extended coda to the slower tracks that came before. While This Machine doesn’t have the revelations and hooks the band expelled a decade ago, it’s a very solid listen and justifies the Dandy Warhols being around for twenty years. After the last two tepidly recieved albums, my continuing fandom feels validated that they still have what makes them so special.
Here’s a track from forever ago to listen to while you go ‘buy’ the album. See you at the NYC show on June 5th…