The Dandy Warhols have remained something of an anomaly throughout their 22 year existence. While the experimental shoegaze of debut Dandys Rule OK came a couple of years too late to be cited among that genre's defining records, it's stood the test of time, along with follow-up Come Down, still heralded by many as the band's finest hour. With the three 45s from that record providing a launchpad for the band in the UK and Europe, it was no surprise when album number three Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia looked to launch them into rock's big league. Straddling the esoteric middle ground between straight laced Americana-influenced pop and heavy psychedelic rock-inspired drones, its status as one of the biggest selling records of that era should have provided the catalyst for regular visits to arena sized venues.
Nevertheless, the subsequent internet-ushered drop in record sales at the turn of the century seemingly affected the Dandys' fortunes somewhat, and whilst retaining a loyal and proficient live following, none of the band's subsequent albums have attained the same critical or commercial impact. Which is probably a tad unfair as 2005's Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars and 2012's This Machine in particular show the band in a completely different, re-energised light to what many in thrall to those early albums would have come to expect.
So on to album number nine Distortland,it shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that they've opted to go for a more straightforward pop record, albeit one that's occasionally skewered around the edges. While the halcyon days of 'Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth' and 'Bohemian Like You' strictly belong in the last century, there's an underlying charm about The Dandy Warhols that shines through Distortland's shiny happy veneer which accentuates their relevance to the present. Although not entirely futuristic in the most pedantic sense of the word, Distortland is a record that owes little to the past other than the odd glance over its shoulder. Probably to see which of its peers are trying to play catch-up.
When Courtney Taylor-Taylor invitingly beckons us to "Come on in..." at the outset of opener 'Search Party' it soon becomes clear we're about to enter a parallel universe. Which is something The Dandy Warhols have always attempted to construct throughout their musical career. Recorded in the Odditorium, a purpose built studio in Taylor-Taylor's basement. Distortland takes on a number of personas across its ten pieces, but is at its most infectious when the playful and occasionally provocative moods take over.
'Semper Fidelis' fuses Animal Collective-style chants over a dance-infused beat Hot Chip would devour in an instant, while fanciful psych rocker 'Reverend Jim' reimagines classic Hawkwind through the eyes of new brigade outfits such as The Asteroid #4. Indeed it bears similarities to the aforementioned's 'Revolution Prevail'. There's even a nod to JD Salinger in the shape of 'Catcher In the Rye', which while not directly referencing the novel in its lyrical contents, follows a schizophrenic pattern of its own over the course of its three minutes.
Reflective album midpoint 'Give' is perhaps the most reminiscent of what's gone before. In the Dandy Warhols' back catalogue at any rate. Similar in structure to 'Green' off 1997's Come Down. It's one of Distortland's stand-out moments, purely by way of its heartfelt sentiment, providing the complete antithesis to the rest of the album's upbeat nature.
At times, Distortland does try to be too clever for it's own good. Take 'All The Girls In London' for example, a song that's been a regular feature of their live set for the best part of two years now. Live it takes on the shape of a psychedelic carnival but here its collage of sounds and ideas while welcoming, don't always engage well in the melting pot resulting in an often mismatched concoction that doesn't flow as well as it should.
Nevertheless, when Distortland's creators allow their deluge of ideas to flip themselves around, from time to time the results can be triumphant. 'You Are Killing Me' might come across as malevolent and obtuse but it's actually one of the most delicate compositions they've penned in years. Elsewhere, 'Doves' makes a beeline for the dancefloor and takes centre stage for its duration while stripped back closer 'The Grow Up Song' delivers Distortland's final embers into a desolate country road.
Overall, Distortland represents the kind of mix and match bag of tricks we've come to expect from The Dandy Warhols and while not quite attaining classic status, is a welcome return for a band who've never been afraid to stick two fingers in the face of adversity.
7Dom Gourlay's Score