Bellingham Herald's This Machine review

Bellingham Herald
This Machine
by Benjamin Aspray

The Dandy Warhols - "This Machine" (The End) (rating: 4 of 10)

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, Ore., 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' populist pathos into an ironic, Screamin' Jay Hawkins-like caterwaul. It's a cringe-inducing misstep, made all the worse by its cavalier attitude toward the source material; to paraphrase a lady friend who was listening with me, "Proletarian alienation: how camp!"

I want you to know about "16 Tons" because it puts the rest of "This Machine," easily the shortest and most abstemious thing the Dandy Warhols have ever put out, into proper perspective. Specifically, it unearths vestigial smirks behind "The Autumn Carnival," "Enjoy Yourself," "Rest Your Head," "I Am Free" and "Slide," which otherwise register as straightforward radio rock - "suspiciously" straightforward. How else to take the second-person aphorisms of "Enjoy Yourself," or the rote Tom Petty-isms of "I Am Free," than as recompense for the shameless indulgence of their last two albums, "Odditorium or Warlords of Mars" and "...Earth to the Dandy Warhols..."?

One option is to take them at face value, I suppose, and assume that "This Machine's" restraint and simplicity marks an attempt by the band to get its ducks in order and recapture the punchy pop magic of, say, 2000's "Thirteen Tales of Urban Bohemia," a career high that constitutes a better best-of than any actual Dandy Warhols best-of. But ever since Ondi Timoner's damning 2004 documentary "Dig!" - a compulsory citation for anything written on the band since - giving them the benefit of the doubt has become harder and harder to do. Timoner depicts Taylor-Taylor as a determined poseur, tirelessly mythologizing the Dandy Warhols as a commercially viable version of the glamorously self-destructive Brian Jonestown Massacre and their insufferable lead singer, Anton Newcombe. This ad hoc expose had the lasting effect of framing their ensuing excesses - psychedelic space-outs, noisy eclecticism, smarmy pastiche and po-mo absurdity in general - as cynical calculations.

Except the Dandy Warhols don't make a very good case that they can function as a minimalist rock unit. Like reformed alcoholics who were more fun when they drank, "This Machine" is alternately sullen and unconvincingly earnest, and inoffensive to a fault. "16 Tons" is obviously an exception to this, and awful as it is, it represents a bold shamelessness that is nevertheless far preferable to the dry, strained hooks populating the rest of the album. "Odditorium" and "Earth" have it in spades, though, which drove critics nuts, and though I can dutifully recognize how bad those albums are, I can't honestly deny their outsize, tawdry appeal. "The World the People Together (Come On)" and "Mis Amigos," from "Earth," and "Love is the New Feel Awful" from "Odditorium" are typical of the indulgent, snarky power-pop that corroborates Timoner's implied accusations against Taylor-Taylor, and God help me, I sort of love them. Their showy clowning is a heady rush of shallow fulfillment.