The Dandy Warhols - This Machine

This is far from a bad album, but it’s also far from matching their best.

The problem with having your work used for a commercial purpose is that even if you produce better songs in the future, they’re never going to reach as big an audience. This has been both a gift and a curse for The Dandy Warhols. Sure, everyone’s heard of the Portland quartet. But apart from ‘Bohemian Like You’, the ultimate slacker anthem that was used to huge effect in a Vodafone advert in 2001, can anyone really name anything else they’ve done? With the exception, of course, of ‘We Used To Be Friends’ – though even that was televisual fodder, as the theme tune for cult hit show Veronica Mars. For those who need their memories jogging, The Dandys are the original purveyors of garage rock hipsterdom, well before the likes The Strokes and The Hives, though they really hit their stride at the turn of the millennium. But against a music scene that has moved on in the last decade, are the band still relevant? Or are they past their best?

The signs are good at first: buzz ‘n’ grind basslines, drumming tight as a metronome, and Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s wry, come-hither vocals makes opener ‘Sad Vacation’ sound like a promising start. Likewise on ‘The Autumn Carnival’, Taylor-Taylor showcases his sultry whisperings amid swathes of fuzzy feedback and a sweetly urgent guitar line. ‘Alternative Power To The People’ is the Marmite track, a weirdly aggressive robotic instrumental, but whether you love it or hate it it’s an interesting break. Perhaps ‘Enjoy Yourself’ is the Dandiest of the Warhols songs on here. Musically, it’s as if Iggy Pop stumbled into Roxy Music’s ‘The Strand’, while lyrically it’s a tribute to to-hell-with-it hedonism – like the band are throwing their own retirement party, full of liquor-soaked nostalgia, replete with an anarchic chorus: ‘So look at yourself / Enjoy your health / Say what you mean, be what you be / And really enjoy yourself now’. It’s unusually sincere and yet the most celebratory moment on here, acknowledging that the party has to end sometime. As a total contrast, ‘Don’t Shoot She Cried’s slo-mo psychedelia with shimmering chorals makes for a truly mellow closer. A shame then that the remaining tracks let the standard slip. Their cover of Merle Travis’ ‘16 Tons’ is a strange anomaly; there’s nothing wrong with the seedy bump ‘n’ grind swing, but the tale of a coal miner’s economic woes seems incongruous in the hands of a frontman who’s known for snarky observations rather than political sympathies. And on ‘SETI vs. The Wow Signal’ and ‘I Am Free’, Taylor-Taylor slips into a monotone coma, sounding tired, or worse, bored, as if he lacks conviction in what he’s saying.

This is far from a bad album but it’s also far from matching their best – and The Dandy Warhols seem oddly conscious of this (see ‘Enjoy Yourself’). As Taylor-Taylor says himself, ‘now I want to go back, and that’s why I’m living in the past’. ‘This Machine’ is both an attempt to recapture the glory days and a sad admission that it can’t be done.

Tags: The Dandy Warhols, Reviews, Album Reviews

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