Friday, July 8, 2011

Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia - The Dandy Warhols

Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia
The Dandy Warhols
Capitol/Schizophonic 787LP

I first encountered the Dandys in a bad review of their album "Dandys Rule, OK?" that dismissed the band as pretentious poseurs.  I came across that CD in the used bin at the record store and amused by the name of the album, I decided to check it out.  I really liked it and I loved their following album "The Dandy Warhols Come Down" which was their major label debut.  I was now a fan and I snapped this up on CD as soon as it came out in the summer of 2000 and played it nearly everyday for months.  Then it all fell apart.  The Dandys embraced dance music, I saw Courtney Taylor-Taylor's awful short film, and then I saw the movie "Dig!" and I suddenly knew a lot more about the Dandys than I really wanted to know.  I lost interest in the band, but I still loved this record and when it came out on vinyl I was happy to pick it up.  In some ways, this album works better as a CD.  The songs are mixed so that they flow into each other seamlessly, an effect that is lost when it is spread over 4 sides of vinyl.  The vinyl does sound awesome though, this is a beautifully produced record.   The record opens with "Godless" which is my favorite Dandy Warhols song.  It was stuck in my head the first time I heard it and it kept playing in my mental jukebox for much of 2000 and beyond.  Although it sounds beautiful and haunting, it is actually a bitter song in which Taylor-Taylor attacks a false friend.  It has become my personal soundtrack for anyone I'm mad at.  From the opening drone and the evocative strum of an acoustic guitar it is a striking musical performance full of atmosphere with brilliant use of trumpet and an urgent breathy vocal from Taylor-Taylor that is unusually passionate for a guy who typically favors ironic distance in his singing.  Side one finishes with a pair of metaphysical songs, "Mohammed" and "Nietzsche," which depending on your perspective can either be viewed as Taylor-Taylor being a pretentious wanker or sincerely questing for meaning in a chaotic world.  I lean towards the former but I still enjoy both songs, which are musically and sonically rich.  In fact side one is probably the most impressive set of music that the Dandys have ever done.  "Mohammed" only consists of ten lines and "Nietzsche" only has three yet both songs go on for more than 5 minutes.  "Mohammed" has a Middle Eastern flavor as befits its title and I find its hypnotic drone very satisfying.  I believe that the lyrics are meant to represent the perspective of a believer.  I've heard Muslims express similar thoughts but there is little in the song that wouldn't work for a devout Christian as well.  "Nietzsche" on the other hand is just stupid although it is redeemed by its thunderous sound and a monstrous power riff reminiscent of the Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla."  You can enjoy either song without even understanding what Taylor-Taylor is singing about.  I had to listen multiple times before I figured out the words and I was sorry I bothered.  Side two marks the return of the smarmy, smirking Taylor-Taylor we all know and love.  "Country Leaver" is a slight country rock song complete with barnyard noises.  "Solid" and "Horse Pills" feature the familar poppy alt-rock sound of the earlier Dandys records.  Taylor-Taylor drawls his way through "Solid" which is about an asshole hipster, if you've seen "Dig" you know that Taylor-Taylor knows all about that kind of guy.  "Horse Pills" mocks wealthy pill-popping cougars.  I'm not sure why they bug him so much, but I doubt that he objects to them on moral grounds.  The hedonism continues on side three with "Get Off," an irresistibly catchy pop song.  At first I thought it was about sex addiction but now I'm pretty sure it is about dope.  "Sleep" is similar to the songs on side one, a four line song stretched out for five minutes.  It a dreamy song with lovely vocals, either as an ode to suicide or a description of heartbreak, it is a moving song, one of my favorites on the album.  It features very effective use of synthesizers as well.  "Cool Scene" is another propulsive pop song.  Taylor-Taylor is putting down hipster cliques I believe.  Side four begins with the Dandy's ultimate hipster put down, the classic "Bohemian Like You."  Insanely catchy it is arguably their most successful pop song and the lyrics are so funny and clever that I can forgive how snooty and sarcastic they are.  In "Shakin'" Taylor-Taylor is ragging on a girlfriend and sings in an affected voice that sounds like he's impersonating David Bowie or Bryan Ferry.  "Big Indian" is an unusually introspective song with a classic rock flavor that reminds me of Tom Petty.  It contains the great line "my old man told me one time, you never get wise, you only get older" which suggests that Taylor-Taylor is not as dumb as he seems sometimes.  I don't know quite what to make of the album closer "The Gospel."  Despite the pretentious title, the song seems like a sincere and heartfelt love song, but given all that has come before it, I can't help but wonder if it is a put-on, especially since it borrows from "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."  It is a very pretty song regardless and I like that the album ends with some warmth and feeling.  "Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia" is an exasperating yet brilliant record.  The lyrics and posturing can be so annoying at times, but the music is consistently engaging and compelling.  I found it enthralling when it came out and that has not changed.  It still excites me when I play it and I've played it a whole lot of times.  On this album at least the Dandys do rule, OK?  Recommended to self-loathing hipsters.


  1. I love the Dandy Warhols -- "Come Down" is my favorite of theirs, but this is a close second. Haven't quite gotten into "Odditorium" yet, though...

  2. And yes, Courtney is pretty obnoxious...

  3. Even though practically everyone I knew despised them, I loved them too, at least as long as the records were good. I still have hope they will make another record as good as this someday and I still prefer this album and "Come Down" to any album the Brian Jonestown Massacre ever made or ever will make probably.