The Dandy Warhols – The Machine
Before ‘indie’ hit the mainstream with its Sisyphean self-obsessed pursuit of everything cool, the Dandy Warhols were arguably the first hipster band. Yes, they’re from Portland, Oregon; yes, they’re good-looking; no, they didn’t give a shit… Dandys Rule, OK? At least that’s what they mythologised 17 years back on their debut, a drugged-out exercise in coming down.
However, take it back to today, and their album, This Machine, their eighth studio album, misses its mark, falling short on living up to the glory. While the signature ten-minutes-plus tracks have been scratched for better or worse, it seems the Dandys have ditched what they were, their focus on This Machine not so apparent – previous outputs time travel seamlessly between 60s neo-psychedelia and 80s synths, but on this, the Dandys dilly-dally styles to the point of frustration, with the only real vestige of the past found in the heroin-chic haziness of the sound.
The Dandys kick off this affair with three killer tracks. “Sad Vacation” has the catchiest fuzzy bass in overdrive with frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor on hushed vocals, even his ‘yeah’s sound sexy, with the outro reminiscing the skewed guitars of a former self. Taylor-Taylor beckons us to come around to “The Autumn Carnival”, an Elliot Smith-aping track bearing teeth. “Enjoy Yourself”, a boost in self-esteem, has the Dandys rolling up the “Lou Weed”-sound from first album while cutting it with the Rocky Horror Picture Show – think Frankenfurter’s Rocky and you’re on the right track.
Largely instrumental with laser sounds provided by vox, “Alternative Power to the People” marks the gradual descent into a distorted Wonderland – familiar but not correct. BJM-inspired nautical swimmer “Well They’re Gone” doesn’t sound finished. “Rest Your Head” wanders balladry, with twinkling guitars and an odd-sounding baritone Taylor-Taylor. And then “16 Tons”: the TMBG inspiration is a bit heavy and comes out sounding like the plain weird Modest Mouse tracks on We Were Dead… that you never really wanted to hear.
Through that thick, patchy work, the album comes back together near the end. “I Am Free” demonstrates the straightforward pop that the Dandys are known for. This one, however, is uncannily defined by its power-pop and brass – think Weezer with horns. “SETI vs The Wow! Signal” contains a large guitar riff capped off with a screeching guitar solo, with the haziness and distorted vocals drenching it classic Dandys pop. Cleverly, these two tracks lying side by side demonstrate that the latter is their strong suit.
And while “Don’t Shoot She Cried” comes off as a lame instrumental, count it as a preface for the interesting last track “Slide”, a haunted song where the vocals fall out half way through, to culminate in a whirring driving outro. This is what the Dandys needed to bring to the fore.
Listening to this album, it’s easy to see the Dandys wanted to pull off what of Montreal do with their colourful palette of albums, each track as different and odd as the last, yet still contributing to the wider tapestry. Unfortunately, it executes like late Weezer: too many styles, was brimming with ideas but now a wheel-less cart. It’s a confusing listen, with Dandys fans having to bear the burden of the hard slog, to sift through this scattershot release for the gold. In fact, now the OK on Dandys Rule, OK? sounds like someone who is second guessing themselves.
by David Claridad