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Record Review: Dandy Warhols

This story was published September 22, 2005 in The Cavalier Daily, U.Va.’s student newspaper.

I’ve never taken drugs. Growing up, I thought Mary Jane was a girl in my school who I’d just never met. I thought yellow jackets were insects, crack was an onomatopoeia used in Batman comics and ecstasy, well, that was just waking up on the right side of the bed. I think if I’d taken acid, I would have tripped — and fallen.

Yet after listening to The Dandy Warhols’ fifth and newest album, Odditorium or Warlords of Mars, I think I know what it’s like to be high.

The Dandys have always been a little out there. Dig!, a documentary featuring Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols, won the 2004 Sundance Grand Jury Prize and became something of a phenomenon in the dark underbelly of the pseudo-pop world. (That’s a joke. There is no dark underbelly of the pseudo-pop world.)

In the film, the band’s trippy antics and sheer spaciness fell like sprinkles on ice cream between moments of insight and poignant honesty.

Their music also carries that half-baked feeling. Odditorium kicks off with a minute-long intro of a man satirically describing how The Dandy Warhols created rock n’ roll. The next track, the first real song, wanders on for nine and a half minutes. It features Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s characteristic airy voice and an understated but steady backbeat. While the song has its merits, most of them are lost amid the ambient noise and obtrusive breakdown at the end of the track.

The next song has a Curtis Mayfield, “Pusherman” kind of vibe, especially when Taylor-Taylor slips into a falsetto amid the groovy bass line and slick trumpet work.

“Holding Me Up” is the first song on the album that really conveys the characteristic sexiness found in most Dandy Warhols songs. In the following track, the slinky sounds turn moody when Taylor-Taylor croons, “Well, I have toiled and I have tamed/Constricted and constrained/Just to learn about/How everyone is totally insane now…/Hear me out, for I was joyful once like everyone/Hear me out, I must have changed.”

Both songs offer the familiar pouty, sultry Warhols sound, and both find themselves without a real message. They are empty songs, floating emptily through an empty record that was written by empty musicians. It’s a harsh accusation, but it’s this characteristic that makes The Dandy Warhols endearing. They’re self-indulgent, but they don’t claim not to be.

Aside from the prolific use of a trumpet and some quasi-country stylings, the only thing that distinguishes this album from the Dandys’ others is that it’s more difficult to connect with.

Having said all that, there are some good songs on the CD. The girly vocals and smart lyrics on “Smoke It” will take you right back to The Dandy Warhols’ most famous song, “Bohemian Like You.” While the final track runs a full 12 minutes, the heavy synth and echoed vocal effects make it worth the effort to get there.

Ultimately, that’s what this album is about; it’s as if the Dandys are more interested in the process of making music than the final product. It’s about the journey, the trip. Whether you do it via acid or not.

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