You have to like Courtney Taylor-Taylor. Unlike his musical influences the louche lead singer of the Dandy Warhols doesn’t take himself too seriously. Not only did he provide the commentary to Dig!, Ondi Timoner’s hilarious documentary about the feud between the Dandys and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, but he has refused to condemn Timoner for portraying the band as a Spinal Tap for the Noughties.
The same amusement, as arch as one of Taylor’s eyebrows, informs the Dandy’s latest album, Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars, which kicks off with the claim: “You are listening to a piece of history.” In other hands the portentous tones of Colder Than The Coldest Winter Was Cold would sound like self-reverential hokum, here it is genuinely funny. Besides, you can forgive the odd joke when what follows is a masterful blend of poptastic rock and roll.
Colder Than… blends into the insistent droning of Love Is The New Feel Awful, the high tone brass section recalling distant memories of Brian Eno’s Roxy Music and darkened rooms where bad girls writhe to dirty music. “It’s all about me,” croons Taylor, but it isn’t: it is about a band that have rediscovered their sound after years meandering through the No Man’s Land of Pop-Rock. The simply gorgeous Easy – which would have been a far better first single than the more conventional Smoke It – follows. It is a smoky, swaggering blend of bleary rock with big band backing.
An odditorium is a place where nothing is quite what it appears: left turns right, back is front and things twist and turn to dazzle and confuse. It is a good description of an album that playfully veers all over the place and leaves you feeling as heady and confused as a first time stoner. Listeners lulled into believing what follows will be a standard blend of thrust rock are thrown off course by All The Money Or The Simple Life Honey, the Dandy’s tart commentary on fame. Garage rock that sounds like it has been recorded on instruments made from bedroom furniture, it is a welcome change of tone after the soothing lusciousness of the previous tracks.
The influences on Odditorium are easy to spot. As always the Stones pre-Altamont are there with Smoke It and the dirty dancing of Down Like Disco. There is a heady dose of the Velvet Underground and Arthur Lee’s Love on Holding Me Up and There is Only This Time. But in the wall of sound rush of synth and guitar there is more than a hint of Hawkwind’s Orgone Accumulator on Easy and, on The New Country, Gram Parsons. More recent influences include The Cure on A Loan Tonight and the punky Everyone Is Totally Insane, a the track made for the OC if ever there was one.
Despite these strong flavours, the Odditorium sound is distinctly the Dandy’s own – at one moment dark and driven, the next mesmerising and lyrical, it is always fresh and exciting. In short it is a cracking return to form for a band that has been away far too long.