[xrr rating=2.75/5]It often appears that the Dandy Warhols are as much a self-sustaining musical history reference generator as they are a band. In the 18 years the band has been together, they’ve managed to name check Lou Reed, Kurt Vonnegut, the Beatles, Kim Deal, Friedrich Nietzsche, Otis Redding and of course, a certain Slovakian-American painter of some note. In between all that, they have also made some music. Their newest album, This Machine, is no exception, including nods to Woody Guthrie’s famous “This Machine Kills Fascists” slogan, a John Lennon song and a left-turn cover of a revered country standard. But while the band’s ability to insert pop culture into their music is undiminished, the album itself feels curiously scattered.

The Dandy Warhols have been around since 1994, and it sometimes shows. That’s not a swipe toward the band’s longevity (which should be praised, particularly as they’ve only experienced one lineup change in that time), but a comment on how almost all musical groups keep to the sounds that initially influenced them on some level or another. Short of radical reinvention, the Dandy Warhols are always going to have a strong streak of grunge-era rock pushing past the synthesizers and horns they occasionally let slip in, and This Machine has that in spades. Opening track “Sad Vacation” is heavy on the crunching guitars and dispassionate vocals, while “The Autumn Carnival” works off the other famous Pixies template, in which a massive bass guitar propels the song, a skittering electric guitar working around it. But while the album starts off pretty much how you’d expect and neither better nor worse for that, it quickly takes some detours. Not all of them work out.

For starters, the aforementioned country standard. “16 Tons” is a legendary song for a lot of reasons: it’s tragic, makes everyone ever put to task by their job feel vindicated and it’s catchy as hell. But the trick to covering a standard is to either put a new spin on it or re-emphasize what made it legendary to begin with, and the Dandy Warhols do neither. The hard rock part has already been covered (both by the Eels and Tom Morello), and the brief flourish of horns only serves to show how derivative it is of the definitive version by Tennessee Ernie Ford. The upbeat “I Am Free” takes the band in a better direction, anchoring a fine pop song to a crystalline guitar riff. Similarly, “Enjoy Yourself” finds frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor in a surprisingly optimistic mode, enjoining classic guitar pop to a heavy voiced assurance of life’s positive notes. And then near the end This Machine swerves yet again, the final two songs (“Don’t Shoot She Cried” and “Slide”) being tranced out, spacey tracks, that while being pleasant in of themselves, have almost nothing to do with anything else on the album (and are notably the only original songs on the album not at least co-written by Taylor-Taylor).

And there’s the central trouble with This Machine: it’s a collection of songs that don’t seem to have connection to one another. Some of the songs are mediocre and not very memorable; some are perhaps deliberately weird; some are solid pieces of songwriting. But as a whole, they sound more like songs that were thrown together as a group for the sake of convenience than for developed ideas or coherent sounds. It almost feels like a compilation album, but instead of their most memorable songs, the band said, “well, what do we have kicking around the studio?”

[button color=”black” link=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001TH4KNG/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spectcultu-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B001TH4KNG” target=”_blank”]AMAZON[/button][button color=”black” link=”http://www.insound.com/This-Machine-CD-The-Dandy-Warhols/P/INS105733/?from=29647″ target=”_blank”]INSOUND[/button]

  • Revisit: Do the Right Thing

    Do the Right Thing saw a filmmaker at the extreme apex of his abilities, one who transform…
  • Oeuvre: Lynch: Inland Empire

    While it would not be fair to treat Inland Empire as a sort of culmination of Lynch’s care…
  • Owen: Other People’s Songs

    [xrr rating=2.25/5]For a guy who consistently sounds low-key, Mike Kinsella is quite busy.…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Revisit: Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing saw a filmmaker at the extreme apex of his abilities, one who transform…