The Dandy Warhols have always struggled a bit with their alt-legacy. The Portland group first came to notice in the seminal documentary DIG!, where they were the poppier, more accessible rival to fellow Portlanders The Brian Jonestown Massacre. The Dandies were a go-to alt-pop band in the late nineties with songs like “Bohemian Like You” and “Heroin Is So Passé”, enjoyable yet alternative, and also ironic about the whole thing. But then came the new millennium, and other than theme song-ing Kristen Bell’s breakout series Veronica Mars, The Dandy Warhols struggled to reclaim that importance (singer/songwriter Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s own sometimes prickly public persona in later years didn’t help, either). They went synth with 2003’s Welcome To the Monkey House, but then back to their diverse, fuzzy sound with 2005’s Odditorium or Warlords of Mars and 2008’s Earth to the Dandy Warhols (QRO review). But the group struggles more than usual to stay relevant on the garage-haunt This Machine.
Despite their pop, The Dandy Warhols have been hard to pin down, style-wise, especially in recent years. Even within albums, they have changed sounds, though usually with a healthy dose of fuzz. Well, the fuzz is still there on Machine, but the sonic change-ups are fewer and less impressive. The dark press-grind of opener “Sad Vacation” is good for what it is, and the following “The Autumn Carnival” is a better dark-haunt number, while the subsequent “Enjoy Yourself” is actually some pretty enjoyable Dandy Warhols going garage-rock.
But then comes the middling tech-road instrumental “Alternative Power to the People” (admittedly, a great song title), and the back-to-back “Well They’re Gone” and “Rest Your Head”, where The Dandy Warhols try to put a haunting sound (especially with Taylor-Taylor’s reverbed vocals) over a sweet base, like a stalker singing – but is less interesting than that description reads. It all becomes less and less interesting as This Machine goes on. “I Am Free” is about as simplistic in sound and message as that title, while the garage of “Seti vs. the Wow! Signal” is just unremarkable garage. The sax-blues “16 Tons” is interesting as an outlier, but psychedelic “Don’t Shoot She Cried” is near six minutes of run-of-the-mill psychedelica.
However, special note must be made of the closer, “Slide”. Written by drummer (and Taylor-Taylor’s cousin) Brent DeBoer (QRO solo album review), its loss-fuzz makes for the most compelling song on This Machine, and hopefully points in a newer, better direction for the band.
After their initial alt-pop hits, The Dandy Warhols have been something of a frustrating band for a fan, constantly changing things and going in different directions. They have been able to make it work, but not always, and This Machine doesn’t work as well as it could or should.