The Dandy Warhols are making rock music cool again. Straight from Oregon, The Dandy Warhols first gained some popularity with their minor hit ‘Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth’ from their ‘The Dandy Warhols Come Down’ album, which also included the much-loved ‘Boys Better’. Who can forget the hook ‘Heroin is so pass’.’? The video had dancing needles and mimes puking in toilets. It was wonderful.
Even though they released an independent album before their major label debut, some critics dismissed them as a novelty group, but the fans remained loyal. Their next album, ‘Thirteen Tales Of Urban Bohemia’ contained the very catchy hit ‘Bohemian Like You’, with its new wave guitar riff and the driving rhythm. Some may have heard this incredible song in the film ‘Igby Goes Down’ as he the main character walks into his Godfather’s party and follows Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes).
While the single was a hit, the rest of the album did not have the same pop sensibility, having more of a classic rock edge to it. Both ‘Thirteen Tales Of Urban Bohemia’ and ‘The Dandy Warhols Come Down’ were very well executed and entertaining rock albums. They had a little bit of experimentation, a little bit of country (‘Country Leaver’ and ‘Minnesoter’) and even some cheeky, clever punk vibes (‘Cool Like Kim Deal’).
In 2003, The Dandy Warhols return with their most accessible album yet: ‘Welcome To The Monkey House’. Lead singer songwriter Courtney Taylor-Taylor produces most of the songs with co-production by Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran. Even Tony Visconti and Nile Rogers help out, too. With a more electronic and new wave feel, The Dandy Warhols have made their tightest album to date. Every song possesses a pure pop feel while maintaining a classic rock ethic. The enhanced CD version even contains a short film directed by Taylor-Taylor, too.
From the tiny opening track ‘Welcome To The Monkey House’, the listener realizes that this is not just a typical album or a typical band. With just some lonely electric guitar strumming, Taylor-Taylor sings with a hushed voice:
Wire is coming back again
Elastica got sued by them
When Michael Jackson dies, we’re covering ‘Blackbird’
And won’t be absurd then when no one knows what song they just heard
Unless someone on the radio tells them first…
Short and sweet, this opening track flows directly into ‘We Used To Be Friends’ as if it were one song. The weird keyboard effects and wild guitar sounds literally create a magical whirlwind of sound. Taylor-Taylor’s half-singing, half-talking vocals just sound so cool as he sings: ‘A long time ago, we used to be friends” Obviously, this song is about the loss of a friendship but it there is only a little bit of sadness in his voice. The narrator of the song seems fine with the loss. The arrogance is wonderful. The chorus bursts into a full maelstrom of sound with lush guitars and keyboards, with Taylor-Taylor’s voice changing to a falsetto to complement the change. It is a song that sinks deep into the listener’s psyche and never leaves.
One of the most beautiful and catchiest songs on the album is ‘The Last High’. Taylor-Taylor’s voice is especially poignant and moving with a quiet sense of confidence mixed in with melancholy:
Now I’m alone but adored by a hundred thousand more
Then I swore when you were the last
In the chorus, he sings, ‘You were the last high’. Some could interpret this as women or love being a metaphor for drugs or vice versa. It is about temptation and promising yourself to stop destructive behavior as well as the inevitable return to that lifestyle. ‘The Last High’ is not only one of the best songs on the LP but one of the best songs The Dandy Warhols ever wrote.
‘I Am Over It’ has a very cool new wave sounding rhythm along with the very 80s vocal style of Taylor-Taylor.
I try to keep myself elated in my right mind
But one more song telling me I’ve been here too long
And I am over it’
sings Taylor-Taylor with a stoned out and wasted confidence. The song is a perfect theme music track. It blasts in the background while you drive your car with your sunglasses on to somewhere very hip. Another new wave vibe is in ‘Wonderful You’, which has some very cool sharp breathing samples in the beginning that go perfectly with the beat. ‘Plan A’ is more of a classic rock song: ‘All of us, all of us sing about it. / All of us sing about it’ is repeated by Taylor-Taylor for the chorus over some majestic sounding guitar work. His falsetto voice is used for the verses this time. ‘Rock Bottom’ truly rocks with the guitar hook complementing the pounding rhythm.
A few songs may be a little odd for some new fans of the Warhols but they still are extremely effective. ‘Scientist’ intelligently uses a sample of David Bowie’s ‘Fashion’ and has guitar work by Nile Rogers (of Chic). ‘I am a scientist / I try to live on science alone.’, sings Taylor-Taylor. While Thomas Dolby was blinded by science, The Warhols embrace it. While most rock stars sing about drugs, women, sex, death, or even the occult [editor: they do?], it’s very refreshing that they sing about science. Remember, everything is science and science is everything! ‘I Am Sound’ has a strong Beatles vibe in the energy but not necessarily the music. ‘Where are the songs for me to sing along? / I am hoping someone writes one for me.’ The song grows on you and becomes a wonderful listen.
While most of the songs are catchy, some do not instantly stick in the mind. ‘Insincere’ is an extremely slow and psychedelic track where Taylor-Taylor’s high-pitched voice overpowers the whole, slightly depressing, song with sound effects. Since it is under four minutes long, the sober listeners will not get bored, but it’s long enough for the wasted listeners to get lost in it. ‘Heavenly’ has all of the ingredients of a pop song but is not a catchy track compared to the others. The short and sweet ‘The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone’ is an upbeat keyboard filled pop track without repetitious lyrics. Once again, Taylor-Taylor uses his falsetto voice, but this time, it’s for the entire song. Finally, the melancholy feelings return for the last song ‘(You Come In) Burned’; a seven minute long psychedelic mini epic of a finale track.
‘Welcome To The Monkey House’ is almost perfect in the sense that it is extremely creative, very tight with a high replay value, and can be listened to all the way through in one sitting. Although it uses influences from the 70s and 80s rock and new wave bands, The Dandy Warhols, tweak them and does something very original.
While The Rentals tried this, The Dandy Warhols are much cooler, and have an intense passion behind their music. That passion for good music can be felt in every single song. Primal Scream were one rock band to successfully merge different styles and create wild and wonderful psychedelic new wave rock music, and The Dandy Warhols can be seen as an American version. This is an album that will be hard to top, although some hardcore fans may feel that the album is too commercial because it is more accessible. Despite some songs not having the same magical feeling as the rest, there is not one bad song on ‘Welcome To The Monkey House’ and the album is an incredible listening experience.
The Dandy Warhols
Welcome to the Monkey House (2003)
Genre: Rock, Indie, New Wave
Record Label: Capitol