Earth To The Dandy Warhols
The Dandy Warhols
Beat The World Records
As they move into their fourteenth year as a band (that’s hard to believe, I know), the Dandy Warhols still confuse and confound their listening public- who do not understand the constructive deconstruction that is at the heart of this band. For starters, look to their namesake: Andy Warhol. All of Andy Warhol’s art was self-consciously idiosyncratic, hip, snide and most of all: informed with a dexterously droll solipsistic cynicism. That is an apt description for the Dandy Warhols. They are hipper than you or I will ever be and that should be just fine. They got there first, after all.
Keeping in mind Andy Warhol’s career, this album would be the Dandy Warhols’ musical equivalent to their guru’s Campbell’s Soup Can series of paintings. With a few notable exceptions all of the thirteen tracks (hint: the number 13 factors heavily into much of the Dandy’s ouevre) found here are borne out of the same tongue-in-cheek lyrical stance (in that there is actually no soup in this particular can), accompanying mid-tempo instrumental tracks, whose main difference, one from another, is primarily superficial (not that superficiality ever stood in the way of a good rock album).
Superficiality is one of the tenets upon which the Dandy’s hang their knickers. Add a healthy dose of sarcasm and a sense of “what the fuck,” and you pretty much have them in a nutshell. The Dandy Warhols don’t take themselves too seriously and neither should you.
In some ways, this, their sixth real release, in all that time, is a culmination of all that has gone before. They cover all the musical ground upon which they have heretofore trod; which is a greater distance than one might initially conceive. Their influences remain in place: Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, the Stones, Bowie and the Beatles. A touch of the Cars. In this rev we can add the occasional dash of Talking Heads and a soupcon of Love and Rockets and a pinch of the Beach Boys. For kicks, one would suppose.
After finally ditching their contract with Capitol Records, following their previous release, 2005’s “Odditorium,” like many 21st Century bands (most notably Radiohead), the Dandy’s determined they were better off in the music “business” recording and releasing their music on their own. The band first released this new album (as Radiohead released In Rainbows last year) in May with an online digital parlay that ostensibly worked well for them- in that they weren’t having to give all their money to a major label which couldn’t care less about them, other than to make demands for more and better “product,” suitable to corporate marketing schemes.
When, after the release of 2003’s Welcome To The Monkey House, the band managed to purchase for themselves their own production studios (appropriately named Odditorium) here in Portland, the die was cast. The means for their escape from the manacles of corporate stricture were in place and the Dandy Warhols have never really been the same since.
Courtney Taylor (or Taylor-Taylor, it depends upon which hotel he is checking into) did not walk into stardom. The guy paid his dues. I first met him as an affable young fellow, in the late 80’s when he manned the side door at Key Largo. After that, I saw him act as drummer (and a pretty good one, at that) for an early 90’s Portland glam band, The Beauty Stab.
Then, with the break up of that band, he disappeared from the scene for a while, emerging five years later, in 1995, with the Dandy Warhols and their first album, Dandy’s Rule OK! for Tim/Kerr Records- with Tony Lash producing-and a certifiable hit in the song “Lou Weed…” They were soon signed to Capitol Records and there their industry troubles began. Not that they weren’t successful, they just often ran afoul of their label- for various reasons- that only a CEO could understand. Drummer Eric Hedford was the only member to bail out from the monkey house, leaving in 1998. He was replaced by Taylor’s cousin, Brent DeBoer, who has manned the drum throne ever since.
Along with guitarist Peter Holmstrom and keyboardist Zia McCabe, Courtney and the Dandy’s have soldiered on, without once betraying a crack in their inscrutable façade- the true definition of cool- perhaps the coolest bunch in all of pop music. Their tunes are featured in films, television series and commercials. they’re everywhere, whether you know it or not.
Earth To Dandy Warhols is not easily penetrated. Thick layers of sound obfuscate Courtney’s vocals- which, given the lyrical content of most of the songs, is not really a problem. Courtney sounds good- and varies his delivery from song to song. The album kicks off with “World The People Together (Come On) a zesty number, with a preponderance of McCabe’s thick keyboard washes and tubular bells, abetted by drum machine hand claps, colored by Holmstrom’s psychedelic guitar, over which Courtney wails with a feminine howl. Catchy. Accessible.
“Mission Control” sounds like Daniel Ash of Love and Rockets vocalizing what could be a 21st century update of the Fabulous Poodles’ song from the early ‘80s, “Video Killed The Radio Star,” with Cars-like synth lines and beefy guitar lines. Short (at just over two minutes), but sweet. Holmstom’s apparently backward guitar solo near the end is especially appealing.
With a profound shout out to the Rolling Stones of the late ‘70s (think “Miss You” and “Shattered” from the Some Girls era- replete with harmony vocals a full octave above the lead), “Welcome To The Third World” also works in some Talking Heads disco funk with Holmstom’s guitar, with Courtney occasionally launching into a David Byrne like moan over a lyric about “love” lost and founf in the dance club: “Hey, boy/you know, I don’t see a dog like you/hang around in a club like this/so much anymore/Guess you just love the ladies/Why don’t you/walk your ass on up, say/‘Hey girl! You dance pretty good/for an almost white girl/and, mm-mm, your lipstick sure do/Match my wallet’ (Hey!).” Out Jaggering Jagger, as it were.
“Wasp In The Lotus” is vintage Dandy’s: twisted psychedelia with impenetrable lyrics, but for a part of the catchy chorus: “You gotta wake up and notice/wasp in the lotus.” Holmstom’s throaty guitar setting is especially pertinent.
The elegaic “And Then I dreamt Of Yes,” seems a little devoid of the usual Dandy cynicism, with a more heartfelt lyric than is customary. “Well I’ve been down now/Like I never got started/Guess you want your world just a certain way/And I can tell you this/I’ve been outsmarted…” McCabe’s ethereal melotron-like synth and Homstrom’s buzzing guitar add to the contemplative mood.
And “Talk Radio” sounds like Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance” from the ‘80s over the chord progression of Status Quo’s cult hit “Pictures of Matchstick Men” from the ‘60s- although a choirboy middle section is affecting, as is Holmstrom’s deconstructed guitar solo which follows.
A real change of pace, with added star power, is “Love Song.” With Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers adding banjo and Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits adding characteristic dobra guitar over Holmstom’s jangling electric 12-string guitar, this track stands out as this album’s non sequitur- although a pleasurable detour, to be sure. Meanwhile, “Now You Love Me,” is a bit of a typical throwaway Dandy’s number. Pleasant, and well-wrought, but a bit fluffy.
Layers of drum machine-like sounds set up the tribal “Mis Amigos,” a happy-go-lucky tune that has to be something of a Dandy’s anthem- an ode to good times and comraderie. For some reason, the Byrds’ “So You Want To Be A Rock Star” comes to mind, when the trumpet solo starts up.
“Last Of The Outlaw Truckers” features again a new aspect of Courtney’s vocal approach- a low, croaky mutter, that works perfectly with the amphetamine sheen of the arrangement- a 21st century update of Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road.” The ballad (the first half anyway) “Beast Of All Saints” sounds vaguely like a song Elliot Smith might have sung: somber and ethereally depressed, until it opens up midway through. “Valerie Yum” with a feel similar to Bowie’s “Jean Genie,“ is an ode to either Valerian or Valium, although it really doesn’t matter, as the out come is much the same. Peppy, but mostly meaningless.
The final track is the nearly fifteen minute long tone poem “Musee D’Nougat,” which is bound to have many listeners tearing their ear lobes off, but stands as a piece of musique concrete in a league with John Lennon (“Revolution #9)and John Cage and other minimalist composers. An amorphous string theme is repeated endlessly, with slight variations and mutations. It’s not as bad as you might think and it’s great if you’re really stoned out.
The Dandy Warhols are never going to be the band you want them to be. And they will always be the band that they want to be. Capitol Records couldn’t push them around and their fan base won’t be able to either. So, adapt, migrate or become extinct. Whatever you choose, The Dandys will be going in their own odd direction- laughing all the way