As a fan of The Dandy Warhols, you never know quite what to expect when the band releases new material. From its garage rock beginnings to the synth-pop direction of its fourth studio album, the Dandys have collected a rather unpredictable catalog since assembling in the early ’90s.
This time around, the Portland, Ore.,-based band attempts a return to its roots with the Dandys’ grungiest album to date, “This Machine.” A time capsule in a sense, the album provides a modern flare to classic turn-of-the-century alternative rock.
The tone of the album is set early with the opening track, “Sad Vacation.” Dandys frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor creates an aura of ’90s grunge with his moody, hushed tones placed over the song’s backbeats and consistent guitar riffs. This trend continues into the next song and perhaps the album’s best, “The Autumn Carnival,” which offers more lyrical range and a better combination of vocals and instrumentation.
Aside from the album’s subdued setting, it sheds light on the group’s lively, rock-out mentality that made it famous with hits such as “Bohemian Like You” and “We Used to Be Friends.”
Although “This Machine” fails to feature anything that will propel the group back into the mainstream mix, “I Am Free” and “SETI vs Wow! Signal” are both worthy attempts.
“Enjoy Yourself” is another album highlight. Reminiscing about his past, Taylor-Taylor creates a poignant glimpse into the mindset of an aging rocker. The song’s upbeat simplicity and the relatively brainless lyrics, such as “I used to be cool / Used to be a fool / Too cool for rules, man / Too cool for school,” camouflage the song’s rather depressing topic of getting old.
It’s hard, however, to anoint “This Machine” to the status of some of the Dandys’ earlier works.
Along with all the album’s highs, it also features some aching lows. A great example would have to be the funky, rock chant cover of Merle Travis’ “16 Tons,” a song that comes across forced and unrelated to the rest of the album’s selections.