Album Review: The Dandy Warhols – Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia4 min read
Thirteen years may seem like an odd anniversary to specifically commemorate, and with that little two-digit number awash with superstition, it is considered unlucky by many. Indeed, perhaps its inclusion in the title of The Dandy Warhols’ third album – Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia – foreshadowed things to come, as despite the band blowing up circa 2000 courtesy of a Vodafone commercial that saw their song Bohemian Like You unexpectedly crash land in the UK charts, their star appeared to fade into obscurity and subsequently fell into the realm of one-hit-wonders.
But include it they did and commemorating they are! The re-mastered re-issue of Thirteen Tales… is a double-disc affair, with the first holding the original album in all its glory and the second being comprised of bonus content. Those unfamiliar with their repertoire may be surprised by the quality and diversity of the band’s songs, especially if the only one known is Bohemian Like You, and the first four on the album reinforce this. The album begins with Godless, a song that manages to be reminiscent of ’90’s Oasis, whilst Mohammed channels a psychedelic and Eastern infused vibe, which is appropriate given the title. The third song, Nietzsche, is where things begin to get interesting, with The Dandy’s experimenting with rowdy noise and murky vocals which bring to mind influential ’90’s shoegazers, My Bloody Valentine. Combined with The Dandy’ urban psychedelia – complimented by horns nonetheless – it surprisingly works, and is a stand out track.
Introduced by farmyard animal noises, Country Leaver recalls imagery of riding a wagon through rural America, but it is not until the fifth track, Solid, that we hit more familiar territory. Its arrival is announced by a rattling tambourine before ‘Dandy’s front man, Courtney Taylor-Taylor lures us in with cocky vocals and lines such as ‘I feel cool as shit coz I got no thoughts keeping me down’. The Brit-Pop assault continues with the songs Horse Pills (cue lyrics about slacker lifestyle and recreational drug use) and Get Off, both of which are incredibly fun, with the former slamming the eardrums with a combination of brash, rowdy and squealing guitars. The album progresses in this juxtaposing fashion, moving through jerky indie-pop songs and mid-tempo lulling numbers, and whilst it could be potentially irritable, the transition is handled well.
Many of the songs on Thirteen Tales… lyrically appear rather shallow, with the band apparently posturing through their music, however the album is surprisingly eclectic and riddled in irony. It is here I must point out one very important word: Dig!. The 2004 documentary that gave a 7 year insight into the lives of the band and the infamous Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Dandys’ peers in Portland who held a reputation for on-stage band in-fighting caused primarily by singer Anton Newcombe’s stubborn and erratic behaviour. Almost like an episode of Portlandia, the film documents the self-importance and pretentiousness of the 90’s pre-hipster Portland scene. Therefore, it is of note that The Dandy Warhols wrote a number of songs about the seemingly love/hate relationship between the two bands, and such prior knowledge may allow the listener to read into the lyrics of some of the songs on Thirteen Tales… with lyrics such as Solid’s ‘Well I must have a door in the back of my head/ Where I dump out all the crap, so I can feel solid again’ and Cool Scene’s ‘Well I’m not making your scene/ And I really don’t feel like I need/ I really don’t mean that it’s cool/ Don’t really wanna be in high school’ depicting the strain in the two band’s friendships.
Drama aside, the re-issue’s selling point is the second CD of bonus content. Thirteen tracks long, it could have been an impressive array of unleashed treats, however there are only two apparently previously unreleased songs, Later The Show and Ras Tafar And I, neither of which quite manage to recapture the brilliance of the album the preceded it. Unreleased tracks tend to be unreleased for a reason, of course, and though these tracks are by no means bad songs, they are simply lacklustre in comparison to the original album. The rest of the songs are early demos of many of the album tracks, none of which are worth shunning the mastered version for, though an alternate vocal mix of Godless carries an air of novelty.
Thirteen years after its original release, it can be said that Thirteen Tales Of Urban Bohemia has aged well. In a manner akin to Oasis and Blur, the songs do not necessarily feel out of date, but merely nostalgic. Despite the bonus content being largely unnecessary, the original album can still be considered one of high quality, and the buzz around The Dandy Warhols at the time is certainly justified in the tracks bookending the hit Bohemian Like You. When taking the bands origins into consideration, it is positively shocking that any good music actually managed to spout from a close-knit community of egos, as the band and The Brian Jonestown Massacre appeared to construct an entire world around the scene and the music that would largely prove to only be toxic to themselves. That aside, whether you are a returning listener or an individual who has never sought The Dandy’s music before, Thirteen Tales… is a rare gem that, as is proven, will continue to stand the test of time.
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