Off-Key with Eric D.

Eric D'Orazio

The Dandy Warhols have it all. Since the release of their first album in 1995, they’ve turned into the quintessential college-rock band, produced no less than three Top 40 singles and become the biggest thing to hit Europe since the bubonic plague. In addition, they’ve played countless shows across the globe, all of which were amazing in sight and sound. Yet in spite of all these breakthroughs, the Oregon-based foursome have never really fashioned a true masterpiece by way of an album. That is, until now.

With the release of The Dandys’ fourth long-player, “Welcome To The Monkey House,” they achieve what so many other bands long for: artistic perfection. They take a superb selection of 13 songs and run through important issues like friendship, longing and the occasional bong hit. Though these seem like common pieces from the band’s catalogue, the manner in which they play them negates the thought. They take those songs in directions where they have rarely ventured, thereby exposing their true potential to a magnificent degree. And to top off this idea of perfection, the album’s cover art, depicting an unzipped banana, is a clear spin-off of The Velvet Underground’s banana cover for “Velvet Underground & Nico,” designed by Andy Warhol. Talk about going full circle …

As off-the-wall as “Welcome To The Monkey House” seems, it truly has what it takes in respect to its content. This point is proven by means of the album’s first single, “We Used To Be Friends.” Basing itself in the thought that “a long time ago, we used to be friends,” the song focuses on wondering about the well-being of an apparently misplaced friend, and on how that friendship can be put back together. Utilizing a combination of lead singer Courtney Taylor’s gorgeously layered vocals and keyboardist Zia McCabe’s deadly-good synth hooks, the song provides for an incredible listening experience that is simply hard to forget. All things considered, “We Used To Be Friends” is hands down among the band’s best material to date. Remember them this way.

After years in the spotlight, The Dandy Warhols have never really been one with the idea of loneliness. Overall, they have exuded song after song about sex, drugs and the bohemian lifestyle, only rarely alluding to moments of depression and anguish. Yet, such feelings are at the forefront of the new album’s “You Were The Last High.” Co-written by Evan Dando (of Lemonheads fame), the song touches upon the relationship problems that come with international stardom. From being in “Paris and London for a few days” to reflecting that “I am alone but adored by a hundred thousand more,” the song’s seemingly hopeless message is all but distressing. However, its sound remains hopefully soothing, counteracting the emotional lyrics with an overall feeling that assures you everything will be just fine. With Dando’s songwriting skill behind The Dandys’ sound sensibility, “You Were The Last High” is simply a classic. You could call them “The Dando Warhols” if you must, but then again that’s just wrong.

Out of all the songs that make up “Welcome To The Monkey House,” by far the most outstanding is “The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone.” The song stands out as being essentially about nothing. It tells one to “exercise in your frustration” and repetitiously calls out to “love me,” but aside from that, the song remains open to interpretation. Yet even though its content remains shady, its sound is all but light and happy, so much so that it becomes reminiscent of The Dandy Warhols TV Theme Song,” the band’s seemingly pointless, but fun first single. The Dandys have once again produced a trippy pop song without any real purpose behind it. But then again, keep in mind that they’re not pop; they’re dandy. Get it right or don’t get it.

If there was ever one thing that “Welcome To The Monkey House” set out to prove, it is that The Dandy Warhols have finally taken their place as one of the great bands of our time. With their new album, they show their incredible versatility, both musically and lyrically, and that after years of extraordinary success, they still know how to write good songs. Without question, the album is one of the best releases of the year, if not the feel-good record of 2003. Call it artsy, indie, or just plain psychedelic, but whatever it is, it rocks. All in all, “Welcome To The Monkey House” is a welcome addition to anyone’s music collection, and it proves once and for all that “The Dandys rule ok.”