Release Date: Apr 24, 2012
Record label: The End
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The Dandy Warhols' searching, contemplative songs have always been a tantalizing yin to the band's brash, sarcastic yang, but it wasn't until This Machine that they devoted most of an album to their thoughtful side. Judging from how well these songs work, it was long overdue; like Earth to the Dandy Warhols, this is one of the band's most consistent sets yet. While This Machine isn't as ballad-heavy or acoustic as its still-life cover -- which nods to Woody Guthrie's famous "This Machine Kills Fascists"-emblazoned guitar -- suggests, it certainly is ruminative.
By most standards, the Dandy Warhols have it pretty good. Unlike so many bands swept up in the 1990s major-label alt-rock signing blitz, they survived a decade-long stint on Capitol with their sanity intact. Though they haven't scraped the top 40 charts in any country for almost 10 years, they can still tour respectably sized 1,000-capacity clubs around the world.
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.
There’s a song called “16 Tons” on the Dandy Warhols’ newest album that you should know about. Yes, it’s the Merle Travis coal-mining tale, covered prolifically by so many artists, but never by any so outwardly insincere as the Portland power-poppers. The Dandys’ probably don’t have much in their charmed lives resembling the hardships endured by the song’s poor white Appalachian laborers, but instead of checking their privilege, they flaunt it: a filthy bari sax and lead singer/songwriter Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s mock growl mangle Travis’s populist pathos into an ironic, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-like caterwaul.
It’s probably in the second fifth of Alternative Power To The People (Track 4) that you finally surrender to disappointment. Sad Vacation, the opener, is the quintessential Dandy Warhols track; crackling and distorted; relentless and determined. The Autumn Carnival evolves out of a downbeat arpeggio and punchy rhythm to deliver vocals in the usual deadpan manner, then Enjoy Yourself grunges into life.
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.