The Dandy Warhols’ fifth album yields the odd pop truffle but fails to hit paydirt
“So if you’re playing in a rock’n’roll band/But still you’re doing whatever the man says/Well I can tell you for the money/The simple life honey is good” – ‘All The Money Or The Simple Life Honey’
And don’t think The Dandy Warhols couldn’t have all the money. In 2001, after ‘Bohemian Like You’ Vodafoned the brilliant but sales-flagging Big Pop album ‘Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia’ out of a career nosedive and back into the charts, what would the dosh-conscious rock scumbag do? Knock out a poly-unsaturated, non-bio, friendly bacteria, 0 per cent finance, nothing-to-pay-until-January follow-up of ergonomically designed advert rock and guffaw all the way to the Bank Of Moby in their complimentary Nissan Micra, right? But no. Instead The Warhols recorded 2003’s obtuse kraut-electro head-scratcher ‘Welcome To The Monkey House’ (leapt on by Sky One anyway, like there’d never be another Dido album or something) and plunged wholeheartedly back into the underground. When the hordes descended on their 2003 tour slavering for louche pop hits they’d chuck ’Bohemian…’ away in the first 10 minutes, then play three-hour sets of lengthy space jams. And now, just as they find themselves the unexpected worldwide superstars of the real-life Spinal Tap rockumentary Dig! (that‘s real life, got that Liam?), do they cash in with a tortured paranoia concept album called ‘Stalked By A Nutjob’? Nope, they’ve returned to their drone-rock boho party roots: chilling in the basement with a bucket bong, a gaggle of bisexual sisters, a bowl of horse pills and a guitar, smoking’n’strumming their way into the 13th dimension and deciding it‘d be, like, sooo far out if they did, like, a 55-second campfire singalong track called ‘Did You Make A Song With Otis’ using only percussion instruments and, like, snarling dogs instead of guitars…
Like ‘All The Money…’ says – a parpy pop stomper arriving after two lengthy dronefests like a tongue-in-cheek reprise of their mobile phone-flogging past – it’ll forever be the simple life (honey) for the Warhols. No compromises, no hassles, no dutifully spreading their ass-cheeks every time The Man growls, “Where’s the single?” Hey, how about opening the record with some old radio newsreader dude recounting how The Dandy Warhols invented rock’n’roll back in 1950? Cool trip, maaan! Yeah, you could chase it up with a 10-minute space-jazz trumpet drone called ‘Love Is The New Feel Awful’ with evil death-ray noises and Darth Vader croaks all over it! Hell yeah, that’ll really fuck with their heads! And check this, sister – let’s make half the songs at least twice the length they need to be! Fuckin’ genius! If, as they have with their promo T-shirts, they made a Frankie Goes To Hollywood-aping shirt to expound their central philosophy, it’d read Warhols Say… Everything Goes.
The simple life, however, isn’t always that tuneful. Much like their 1995 debut album ‘Dandys Rule OK?’, roughly half of ‘Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars’ – their fifth – can be recognised as Earth pop music while the rest is an extended lesson in bold, noble but not always enjoyable Sound Odyssey – kind of like David Bowie’s ‘Low’ in a food mixer. On the vapid side: ‘Easy’ is a seven-minute muted funk noodle that defiantly refuses to have a point and features Courtney Taylor-Taylor seemingly phoning in a bad Damon Albarn impression from a service-station lavatory, while the 12-minute krautfuzz plod of ‘A Loan Tonight’ spends its endless duration trying so hard to be Bowie’s Berlin period that you can practically hear it goose-stepping around Victoria Station pretending to be gay. More successfully, ‘The New Country’ drenches a banjo-slapping hoedown in space guitars and reverb to quite dizzying effect and ‘There Is Only This Time’ is an intriguing laptop moodscape that imagines Gregorian monks singing for Spiritualized. But when an initially delicious galaxy groover like ‘Love Is The New Feel Awful’ gets dragged backwards through six solid minutes of jazzy trumpet widdle and bongos, you find yourself praying for The Man to storm the studio, kick over the bong and arse-rape them mercilessly until they write Him a hit. Like, wake up and smell the lethargy, duuuudes…
Because when The Dandy Warhols get the rock out – about two thirds of the way in – there’s few bands more fun to party with. To hear first single ‘Smoke It’ with its ranting nutter-with-a-megaphone witticisms – “People got more baggage than JFK/And I’m not talkin’ ’bout the airport” – its sly references to OutKast’s ‘Ms Jackson’ and its bursts of ecstatic whoops and yelps is to have a slice of hash pizza thrust in your hand and be whisked away to the college pool party at the end of the universe. It’s an all-too-brief glimpse of the freewheeling Dandys spirit that made ‘Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia’ such an exhilarating pop rush, but it‘s not alone: the frankly stupendous ‘Everyone Is Totally Insane’ is Gary Numan gone space walking around ELO’s ’80s mothership, both sinister and sumptuous at once, while ‘Holding Me Up’ turns from a by-numbers retread of ‘Boys Better’ into an unholy yob reveille. And then there’s ‘Down Like Disco’, rattling along College Rock Freeway with the top down, a breezy harmony in its hair and a gaggle of guitars making out in the back. Such moments regularly stumble out of the self-indulgent improvisational soup of ‘Odditorium…’ to remind us that the fun-loving Warhols are still with us, they’re just going through a difficult evolutionary phase right now.
There’s two ways for the devout Dandys fan to approach ‘Odditorium…’ . 1) it’s their ‘Kid A’, a brave blunder into a new creed of experimentation into which they will hopefully one day re-work The Tunes. Or 2) what they really wanted to make was a week-long jazz opus played entirely on dying cats, but the record company made them put some proper songs on it. We trust it’s the former – they’ve too much pop in their souls to go too Eno – but either way ‘Odditorium…’ , like a particularly cuddly blue whale, is a tricky beast to love. The simple life it may be; easy going it ain’t.