Despite their goofy name, the Portland-based Dandy Warhols have carved an important niche in rock’s landscape. Their fourth album, Welcome to the Monkey House, (named after a collection of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut) showcases a new twist on the sound they have nearly perfected on their previous three albums.
Gone are the classic melodies and deep, heavy riffs, replaced instead by dance grooves and synthesized hooks. “The Dope” and “I am Over It” bump along with funky beats and sweaty sound effects that add nice depth to the sound. “You Come in Burned” brings back the sonic landscapes the Warhols employed so well on other albums. “We Used to be Friends” is a bonafide club banger, while “Hit Rock Bottom” mixes some background “oh yeahs” with Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s sleepy vocals. With “You were the Last High,” they capitalize on an unstoppable vocal melody to craft the definitive song on the album. The theme is experimental grooves with just enough catchy, David Bowie-type hooks to keep you bobbing your head.
The connection to Bowie goes beyond the juxtaposition of the two artists in my alphabetized record collection. Bowie counts the Warhols as one of the most promising bands in modern music, publicly congratulating them on the success of their third LP, 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia, and even contributing the lyrics to “I am a Scientist.”
Despite the variation in musical style, the Warhols retain their lyrical sense of self-righteousness and humor with track titles like “The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone.” You get the feeling that Taylor-Taylor knows he is cooler than you and won’t let you forget it. Known for once singing, “I’d rather by cool than be smart,” he now reminds a past acquaintance, “We used to be friends, a long time ago, but I haven’t thought of you lately at all.”
Despite the bravado, this record may fall short in the eyes of the Warhols’ cult following. It is however, refreshing to see an American rock band truly challenge themselves, and the low points on the record, such as “Insincere Because I,” become more of a delight when the expectations Warhols fans have are put aside. Are the Dandy Warhols the best American band going? Maybe, maybe not. But they are the closest thing to the Velvet Underground this generation has.