This Machine... Not pictured: a machine
Review: The Dandy Warhols – This Machine
Published on April 13th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Is This Machine the closest The Dandy Warhols have come to date to sounding like The Velvet Underground/The Jesus and Mary Chain/early-’90s Flaming Lips? If you’ll forgive the deployment of this rather flimsy journalistic device as a means to begin this review and focus on the question on hand; yes, it may very well be.
Opener “Sad Vacation” kicks things off with distortion feedback, the scuzziest of scuzzy basslines, enthusiastically clattering drums, some weird whooshing sounds and Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s sexily semi-whispered vocals, an intoxicating blend that kicks “Bohemian Like You” and “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” in the knackers and robs them of their lunch money, before playfully ruffling their hair and returning the stolen monies. And if you think that doesn’t make any sense, you should listen to this album.
“The Autumn Carnival” continues the dark, somehow leathery sound and lascivious vocal delivery, jabbing your ears and mind with sporadic electric guitar gun fire and some slightly odd “uh oh oh” vocable punctuation along the way before ending with a creepy circus theme, paving the way for “Enjoy Yourself” to tickle you pink with lines like “I used to be pretty / Pretty like a girl / I was the prettiest little girl in the whole fucking world”, imparted in a fabulous baritone croon that sounds so gosh darn exhilarating when paired with the big ol’ bawl-along chorus it’s got going on. Oh, and dig (no reference intended) that syncopated bassline.
When “Alternative Power to the People” lays some berserk scratching over a driving scuzz-rock riff while shimmering guitars lower in the mix perform a sort of alternative Bond theme type thing, well, you’re left in no doubt that this is an aural experience every bit as much as a collection of songs, a duality reinforced by the dark reggae of “Well They’re Gone”, which rides a sparsely-lit melodica bandwagon into a seedy yet surprisingly elegant, Pulp-esque chorus.
“Rest Your Head” welcomes back the baritone croon for another, this time tenderer run-out – not unlike a less arch Stephin Merritt, come to think of it – and it’s the ‘loveliest’ song on the album so far, a chorus melody/harmony combo that reminds very much of Modern Life is Rubbish-era Blur.
We are then treated to a fabulously vampy cover of disputed classic “16 Tons” before the Elephant 6-esque “I Am Free” lifts spirits with a triumphant brass section, another pop song rendered delightfully edgy by the thrillingly filthy production, quite Elephant 6; and then it’s time for the magnificently titled “Seti vs the Wow! Signal” to confirm the suspicion that This Machine could be a ’90s album catapulted into the future (and produced accordingly) by smacking down a louche, wonky and melodic stomp that brings to mind Fuzzy Logic-era Super Furry Animals. Brownie points too for rhyming ‘Jupiter’ with ‘stupider’.
“Don’t Shoot She Cried” casts a magical ‘comedown clarity’ spell in a similar manner to The Flaming Lips’ “Hold Your Head” from their 1992 album Hit to Death in the Future Head, guitars gently chiming guitars as a harmonica soars overhead, and then “Slide” brings down the curtain in suitably disorienting yet grandiose fashion, slow-burning epic that it is, and one with a mad waily sound that could conceivably be a guitar, a synth or a heavily treated vocal.
The band themselves have spoken of simplifying things this time round, and I can only assume they were speaking from an arrangements/instrumentation point of view, because throughout the record the mix is fascinatingly full of life, ghosts in the machine, all the bells and whistles you need to take you on a listening experience that, gulp, ‘transcends’ these deceptively simple songs. Now on their seventh studio album (eight if you include 2009’s Welcome to the Monkey House revision The Dandy Warhols Are Sound), Taylor-Taylor, Peter Holmström, Zia McCabe and Brent DeBoer deserve great credit for still sounding so fresh and exciting.
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!