The last time we heard from The Dandy Warhols, it was with the release of 2009’s The Dandy Warhols Are Sound, an alternate mix of the band’s 2003 release, Welcome to the Monkey House (produced by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran and mixed by Russell Elavedo). Dissatisfied with the result, the band’s label, Capitol Records, opted to have the album re-mixed by Peter Wheatley, without the Dandys’ involvement. The friction with the label led the band to begin releasing material including the obtuse and at times self-indulgent Odditorium or Warlords of Mars, a creative leap but a commercial and critical question mark. As the band’s contract with Capitol waned, the band began releasing material on their own Beat the World label, including their 1996 demo The Black Album, also originally rejected by Capitol, as well as a version of Monkey House more akin to the band’s original vision. With the release of This Machine, their 10th full-length, the band has returned to a label (The End Records) that allows the Dandy Warhols to be the Dandy Warhols.
Produced by the band and Jeremy Sherrer, This Machine was pitched as stripped-down and extremely guitar-centric, even described as woody by frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor. Featuring 11 tracks that cover a somewhat broad palette, This Machine is the first Dandy Warhols album to feature songs written entirely by band members other than Taylor-Taylor. As a result, it can come across as uneven, more a collection of songs rather than a fluid album. However, as with most things Dandy, the surface is just that, and it’s what lies beneath that often provides the continuity.
Described by friends of the band as perhaps the group’s gothiest record, Taylor-Taylor considers This Machine the band’s grungiest. With that in mind, however, This Machine does not revel in orchestral chamber music echoed with haunting chorales, nor does it steep itself in minor chord, guitar-centric, sludgy dirges. The goth and the grunge, much like many of the band’s influences, are woven into the very fabric of the album and its songs, to provide a depth and a texture that goes beyond the stereotypical.
The album opens with Sad Vacation and a sludgy, aggressive bass attack, cousin to early Black Flag intros, that may be the most stereotypical grunge-like moment of the album. Credited to both drummer Brent DeBoer and Taylor-Taylor, Sad Vacation was written by DeBoer, but keyboardist Zia McCabe had Taylor-Taylor fix the song’s lyrics to strengthen the emotional content of it, moving it from bitter to defiant. DeBoer also wrote the album closer Slide, and cowrote with McCabe the penultimate number, Don’t Shoot She Cried, where the album’s Northwest flavor truly comes to life, blended with echoing chorale-like vocals.
Well They’re Gone, the album’s first single, is a mellow number that echoes the Real Tuesday Weld’s vocal delivery in a way that would make one think Stephen Coates’ Clerkenwell Kid and Courtney Taylor-Taylor were two sides of the same coin. The Autumn Carnival, co-written by David J. of Bauhaus and Love & Rockets, also shares this delicate vocal delivery. Featuring a guitar line throughout that suggests a mashing of Nirvana’s Come As You Are, it was this song and not the far more gothic tinged Don’t Shoot She Cried that likely inspired the goth comments.
The fuzz-laden, feedback driven, chaos-infused pop of songs like Every Day Is A Holiday are found alongside tracks like SETI vs the Wow! Signal, but most of this album’s candy comes in a harder shell. Alternative Power to the People is an aggressive, pseudo-instrumental, with vocals more like oddly distorted grunts. Enjoy Yourself has Taylor-Taylor channeling his inner Iggy Pop, and Rest Your Head should have you thinking of Crash Test Dummies’ Brad Roberts from the first lyric. The album’s throwaway track, a cover of Sixteen Tons, is nothing short of a self-indulgent exercise accented with skronking saxophone.
A seemingly dissonant record that reveals itself upon repeated listening, This Machine may not be the band’s next Thirteen Songs From Urban Bohemia, but it doesn’t necessarily aim to be. The Dandys have been on their long, strange trip for nearly 20 years; it’s about time the band stopped and looked at all that they’ve covered on their journey. This Machine is not the result of the Dandys turning a corner or shifting direction, but rather taking the best of where they’ve been and applying it to where they’re going.
Essential Tracks: The Autumn Carnival, SETI vs the Wow! Signal, and Enjoy Yourself