The Dandy Warhols

Welcome to the Monkey House

(Capitol; 2003)

By Amir Nezar | 17 October 2003

Goddamn, the Dandy Warhols are cool. I mean, seriously. They're such hot shit, when they walk into the room the room explodes, and within seconds they're all getting laid. Just look at those photos in the insert! All that panache is a little too much to handle for me. I mean, sure, I get mine and life ain't bad, but I wouldn't dare to even try to be as cool as, for instance, Courtney Taylor. Just listen to that voice. It's so…nonchalant, so…well, obviously, sexy, so…self-conscious?

No. I refuse to believe it. But then again…

See, the problem with the coolest cool kats around is that they're aware of it. They're young, they've done enough drugs to finance a small African nation, they probably get laid a dozen times a night, but they're so aware of these things that it starts to distance you from them. They're so Bohemian that you start to wonder, wait, is all this Bohemianism really that good? What I mean is, when the songs on Welcome to the Monkey House assault your ears with sensual indifference as much as they do, how much does the kool-ness of it overwhelm a focus on songwriting? For how long can the kool-ness of it overwhelm the increasingly apparent fact that, actually, the record is spotty? But most importantly, I'm wondering whether the Dandies will be caught in a trap of being cool and will forget that they do have a good deal of talent.

Exhibit A: "We Used to be Friends"

Still one of my favorite songs of the year. Insidiously catchy thanks to an excellent bass line, and ripe with sexual energy and an aggressive falsetto hook, it's the stuff you wish the entire album was made out of. There are wonderful, wacky keyboards, a superlative hook, and wonderfully sexy vocals. When Taylor says, "A long time ago / We used to be friends" it sounds like an invitation to the bedroom. All said, it's a tight, coherent, cooler-than-thou song, and I couldn't love it more.

Exhibit B: "Wonderful You"

This almost the song I was talking about earlier, the song whose coolness obscures the fact that it's not so solid a song. It is surely a drum and bass song, with, for hotness effect, sprinkles on little sex-breaths on every other beat--remember, these guys do get laid a hundred times a day. It has a couple neat decorations, and the little variation in the bass line save it from being totally mediocre, but the problem is that the Dandies will not only toe this line, but entirely cross it on a number of occasions. See Exhibit C.

Exhibit C: "(You Come In) Burned"

Here we have what embodies everything that's wrong with the Dandies. In fact, I like to think it embodies the character of the entire album. It begins with an introduction that sounds like it could lead into something extremely cool--a distorted guitar loop that threatens to build into something meaningful before sinking and disappearing under some rudimentary percussion and an absurdly simple bass line. This song, like the worst ones on this album, tries to rely solely on Courtney Taylor's voice to carry water, and fails. Four bass notes do not sustain a song, and by God, not for over seven minutes, regardless of whatever small effects you want to toss in. When that cool intro guitar loop comes back at the end, it unfortunately serves simply to remind you how much promise this album had, but conversely, how much it failed to deliver.

So all in all, Welcome to the Monkey House has some highs to boast of, pun intended. But seriously. Songs like "You Were the Last High" and "Heavenly" have the kind of new wave anthemia about them that you wish the Dandies wrote a little more into their catalogue, and tracks like "We Used to Be Friend" make you wish the Dandies would put down their keyboard fetish and just use guitars to do what comes naturally. What ended up being the natural thing for me was learning the track names by heart so that when I play through this disc, I just hit the highs, and none of the lows.

Perhaps Courtney Taylor gives us the best hint about this affair himself. In the intro of "I Am Over It," Taylor says, "Let's see if we can do this in one toke…take." Here are the two things, implicit in this statement, that you need to know about the Dandies. First, it's precisely this sort of self-petting humor that threatens to bring these guys down and betrays their self-consciousness about being cool. Second, the entire album feels like the Dandies sat down, got blitzed, and tried to do everything in one take, or toke, whatever; the point is, perhaps if they weren't coked out, and put more effort into their stuff, they could be a great band. I'm not rooting for rehab; a little Bohemianism can make rock extra cool, so long as the songs hold more weight than the attitude. Let's just hope that the Dandies don't think that reverse is possible.