Wednesday, June 25, 2014
This Machine - The Dandy Warhols
The Dandy Warhols
Beat The World Records/The End Records TE 252-1
I loved the Dandy Warhols back when they released "The Dandy Warhols Come Down" and "Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia" but their subsequent albums greatly disappointed me. I didn't expect them to keep making the same record over and over but I found their exploration of new sounds to be self-indulgent and annoying. I gave up on them. Then last year I went to their show at the Wiltern to hear them play "Thirteen Tales" in its entirety and damned if I didn't fall in love with them all over again. The concert inspired me to check out their most recent studio album to see if maybe the magic was back. Not really, but I do like it better than any album they've released since "Thirteen Tales." The album starts promisingly with "Sad Vacation" written by Courtney Taylor-Taylor and the band's drummer Brent DeBoer. The song is driven by a heavy bass riff and features a stripped down sound that is a sharp contrast to some of the excesses of their previous albums. The song is a nasty break up song sung in a breathy voice by Taylor-Taylor. "The Autumn Carnival" was written by Taylor-Taylor in collaboration with David J from Love and Rockets and it sounds more like Love and Rockets to me than the Dandies. There is a strong 1980s vibe to it. It has pretentious lyrics that use the symbolism of a carnival to wax lyrical about hedonism which has always been one of Taylor-Taylor's favorite themes. He sings it in a breathy voice again which I find irritating. He breaks out his David Bowie voice to sing "Enjoy Yourself" which he wrote by himself. The song is startlingly personal and autobiographical as Taylor-Taylor croons about his pretty boy heyday when he "used to be cool." The song is about both nostalgia for the the past and enjoying the present. It sounds like Taylor-Taylor is missing his past success which he purposely undermined following the release of the film "Dig!" and "Thirteen Tales." DeBoer and Taylor-Taylor's "Alternative Power To The People" is an instrumental that sees the Dandies return to the dance floor. I never cared much for their dance music phase but the song is fast-paced and propulsive enough that I don't get bored. They slow down for Taylor-Taylor's "Well They're Gone" which is a cabaret style love song that he breathily intones like he is aspiring to be Leonard Cohen. It is a pretty song most notable for the theremin that runs through it giving it an eerie sound. Side one concludes with "Rest Your Head" a collaboration between Taylor-Taylor and Miles Zuniga of Fastball. The song uses the imagery of a train trip to discuss dealing with failure and pain, an apt metaphor for the Dandy Warhols' train wreck of a career. The song is one of the most mainstream style songs I've ever heard them play, it would fit easily on a Tom Petty album. Taylor-Taylor's voice sounds ragged and awkward, maybe there is a physical reason for so many breathy vocals on the record. The B-side opens with a dubious cover of Merle Travis' "16 Tons" which was a big hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford in 1955. Taylor-Taylor drawls out the song backed by a raucous rhythm and blues interpretation of the song driven by Steve Berlin's honking saxophone. It sounds like something you'd hear in a burlesque show. The Dandies have recorded plenty of oddball covers through the years but they usually don't use them as filler on their albums. Taylor-Taylor's "I Am Free" is another autobiographical song in which he expresses his happiness at overcoming his "darkest past" and being saved by the music inside of him. It is a surprisingly joyous song bolstered by an exuberant brass section. I interpret the song as Taylor-Taylor looking back on his twisted career and relishing an opportunity to set things right again. The song is one of my favorites on the album and it features one of Taylor-Taylor's best vocals. "Seti vs. the Wow! Signal" is another collaboration with Miles Zuniga. Lyrically it is one of the odder songs in the band's canon. It humorously recounts the story of the unusual radio signal detected in space by a scientist in 1977 as part of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project. Like "Rest Your Head" it has a commercial classic rock sound but I still like it. It sure beats the dreary drone of "Don't Shoot She Cried" which was written by DeBoer and keyboard player Zia McCabe. It is easily the worst song on the album and unfortunately the longest as well. This glacially slow dirge has some lyrics but all I can decipher is the song title which is repeated numerous times. I've complained about Taylor-Taylor's self-indulgence throughout his career but he's got nothing on his bandmates. "Slide" was written by DeBoer and clumsily describes a troubled relationship. It does not sound much like the Dandies, it sounds more like a U2 song given a psychedelic re-mix. I enjoy it for the most part but it gives the album a lackluster finish. There are too many duds on this record for me to proclaim "This Machine" to be a true comeback for the Dandies but it does make me hopeful for the future. I'm intrigued by the emergence of Taylor-Taylor's more mature outlook and his self-awareness. Musically though it does not sound very inspired. Taylor-Taylor once boasted "I sneeze and hits come out" but now he seems to be laboring to write compelling melodies. As much as he irritated me back then, I do miss the old Taylor-Taylor. His flamboyant narcissism and relentless self-confidence fascinated me and his music was truly exhilarating. This sounds more like a record from a broken man. He's even lost his voice to some extent. Nonetheless I do believe that Taylor-Taylor is too talented an artist to simply fade away. This record helps me believe he still has another great record left in him. In any case I'll keep listening and hoping. Recommended to people who like "The Black Album/Come on Feel The Dandy Warhols" better than "Welcome To The Monkey House."