Off Key With Eric D: The Dandy Warhols

Eric D'Orazio

So you think you know all about The Dandy Warhols? You think that just because you saw their universally acclaimed documentary, “DiG!,” that you are one with this, the self-proclaimed “most well-adjusted band in America.” Even if you didn’t see the film, you’ve probably heard their records while shopping at American Eagle or Abercrombie, and in response considered them one of your key bands. Moreover, you’ve definitely heard their music on “The OC,” and hence seem able to deem them as cool as peanut butter ice cream. Well, where your expertise in popping collars excels, your knowledge of the Dandys dwindles. But there is hope.

It’s a common misconception that The Dandy Warhols are nothing but a ’60s pop-rock revival outfit, focusing primarily on jumpy tunes about how heroin is so passé and how everyday should be a holiday. Those chosen few who have actually followed the band over the years know this isn’t true. In fact, they’ve also delved into ’70s rock, ’80s new wave and early-’90s shoegazer, all paired amidst the majestic atmosphere of psychedelic rock. So, looking back at their genres of choice and the rock-star life in general, the Dandys offer up their latest album, “Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars.”

At this point, you must be wondering about the album’s odd title. How did they come up with something so out-of-the-ordinary, you might ask? Well, to put it bluntly, they had their list of possible titles cut down to two choices, “Odditorium” or “Warlords of Mars.” The first of these is the name of the self-owned studio where they recorded the album, whereas the latter seems to have come from another planet. Basically, they couldn’t choose between the two, so they took both.

Now that we’ve clarified the title, the album’s songs bring about another, more pertinent point of contention. Of the 12 tracks that comprise “Odditorium,” none of them bring about a new genre, let alone feel, to the Dandys’ catalogue. In fact, they backtrack into that catalogue, calling on the sounds that defined the band’s previous four albums. While this could be seen as a cop-out for any other band, it works magnificently to the Dandys’ advantage.

Upon first listen, “Odditorium” seems to exude a “cooler than thou” mentality, not fully heard since the band’s 1995 debut, “Dandys Rule, OK?” The songs are longer, their lyrics more provocative and their hooks deeper than ever.

Also harkening back to their debut is the use of a spoken-word intro track. Instead of bringing in close friend Thomas Pancake to do it again, the Dandys call on legendary journalist and A&E host Bill Kurtis. Entitled “Colder Than The Coldest Winter Was Cold,” the intro looks into how the band came to be and how they influenced the history of rock ‘n’ roll. As strange as that may sound, it simply makes sense on a Dandy Warhols record.

Just about every song on the new album is noteworthy in its own right, representing different periods in the Dandys’ rise to borderline fame and modest fortune. Seven-minute rock-outs like “Holding Me Up” and “Easy” look back to the band’s 1997 sophomore effort, “…The Dandy Warhols Come Down,” while the album’s first two singles, “Smoke It” and “All The Money Or The Simple Life Honey,” recall 2000’s über-popular “Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia.” In addition, songs like “There Is Only This Time” and “Down Like Disco” call upon 2003’s “Welcome To The Monkey House” for divine inspiration. Put all these ingredients together and you get more sing-alongs than a rerun of “Barney the Dinosaur.”

Though “Odditorium” remains a relatively balanced album, there are two songs that go above and beyond all expectations into the upper echelons of Dandydom. The first of these is the nine-and-a-half minute “Love Is The New Feel Awful.” Sounding as if it was cut straight from the sessions for “Come Down,” the song exhibits a mood of pure melancholy, with a vocal hook so grandiose that it in itself makes the album worthwhile. The added bonus of an extended jam at its tail end doesn’t hurt either.

The second overtly spectacular song is “Everyone Is Totally Insane.” Besides stating the obvious in its title, the song asserts “I have toiled and I have tamed, constricted and constrained,” as if hinting that the band has finally found their way through the arduous demands of their major label. Driven by the new wave synthesizers that defined “Monkey House” two years ago, as well as some of the band’s finest vocal harmonies on record, the song stands out as classic Dandys to the power of 23.

In retrospect, The Dandy Warhols are not a tough band to enjoy. So long as you have an open mind, an ear for melody and a steady supply of less-than-legal substances, their music should come to you faster than an answer on Final Jeopardy.

Yet, this concept counts double for “Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars.” After all, this is the record that fans have been waiting for, the one that reinstates the Dandys place as the foremost band in new psychedelia. Simply put, it serves as an addendum to the work they’ve done over the past 10 years, but also as a sign that they’ve secured a signature sound. That’s pretty much what the new album is all about: The Dandy Warhols sounding like The Dandy Warhols. So the next time you’re shopping at Aeropostale and the Dandys come on, feel free to rock out. In the words of Bill Kurtis, “you’re listening to a piece of history.”