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The Dandy Warhols

The Dandy Warhols Are Sound

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Label: Beat the World

I don’t mean this in a spiteful way (I’m an ex-fan), but it’s somewhat easy for hipsters to hate Portland quartet the Dandy Warhols. They’re good looking, have a silly name and co-starred in Dig!, where they come across as the sensible careerists to the self-destructive fuck-ups of Brian Jonestown Massacre. They wear their no-brainer influences reverently on their sleeves (Stones, Bowie, shoegaze) and they happily sell their songs for commercials, movies and TV- they provided the theme for the sorely missed, short-lived Undeclared.

Here, in Portland’s fertile music scene, they seem like pariahs, occasionally feuding with the local alternative papers and seemingly at odds with the city’s staunchly indie/punk/DIY ethos. Unlike so many local bands, they have unapologetically carried themselves like rock stars-right down to their perfect hair and leader Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s casual egoism-even when they weren’t big. Yet this illustrates the occasional hypocrisy of indie orthodoxy. The Dandys have their own label, their own studio/performance space (the Odditorium) and have always done things their way, even when they were on a major label. After all, few PDX bands have opened for Radiohead, Blur and Bowie (the latter their most famous booster).

Released on their own label, The Dandy Warhols Are Sound is not a new album nor is it a traditional remix album. It is, as their website helpfully explained, the original mix of their fourth album, 2003’s Welcome to the Monkey House, a record that, with just its cover and title, managed to reference Vonnegut, the Rolling Stones, Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, giving ammunition to those who find the Dandys derivative, scene chasing poseurs.

There’s little obvious difference between this and Monkey House. The mix by Russell Elevado (Alicia Keys, Common) was finished at NYC’s Electric Lady Studio and was rejected by Capitol in favor of another mix. The running order here is different, some songs are longer and there is an occasional dubby throb but only serious fans will notice (or care) about the differences. Really it just offers a second chance for Monkey House, an album on which they tried to switch directions, after the cheeky tour through various styles (glam, classic rock, even country) of 2000’sThirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia.

Their timing may have been off with both albums, as Tales came out a little too early for the resurgence of guitar bands and Monkey House came out a little too early for the resurgence of synth-pop and new-new wave, although few others got Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes to produce and Simon Le Bon to sing back up. They do have a knack for catchy, if familiar, singles and both “The Last High” (co-written with Evan Dando) and “We Used to be Friends” still sound like should’ve-been radio hits. This mix just makes it clear that Monkey House was an occasionally interesting but ultimately uneven attempt to get away from the big, swirling guitars, bringing more clubby beats and slick keyboards to their retro psych-glam rock. Though the band has been accused of chasing trends or milking the past, this album does seem to point towards what would be big (disco/dance/funk mixing with rock) in the next few years. Oddly, this version omits the brief title track, which would’ve been especially timely, as it contains the line “When Michael Jackson dies/ We’re covering ‘Blackbird.’

There’s little to recommend Sound except as an addendum to Monkey House, yet it’s foolish to call it self-indulgent, as that’s one of the band’s more charming traits. It does come off as continuing the band’s somewhat directionless, unpredictable trajectory, one that they seemed to acknowledge by titling their last studio album …Earth to the Dandy Warhols… Maybe if the stars had been aligned differently, Welcome to the Monkey House could have made them the Killers. Whatever their flaws, they’re a lot more entertaining and don’t take themselves too seriously.

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