The record business is fucked, apparently.
Or, at least, that’s the case according to perpetual underdog Butch Walker, the wild-eyed producer/songwriter who set up his own label recently, which you can find on, um, TheRecordBusinessIsFucked.com. After releasing three utterly brilliant but underperforming solo albums, Walker determined he had enough and decided to stake it out on his own, having developed a fan base loyal enough to support his endeavors for years and years to come. He’s not the first artist to branch out independently—far from it, even. In recent months, we’ve seen just about everyone drop from a major to set up their own means of distribution, ranging from Radiohead to, yes, even the Dandy Warhols.
The ever-present psych-rock group (lead by singer/producer/egomaniac Courtney Taylor-Taylor) still, to this day, will forever be tied to Ondi Timoner’s required-viewing 2004 documentary Dig!, in which the Dandy Warhols’ rise to semi-prominence is compared to the obscurity-dwelling antics of Brian Jonestown Massacre frontman Anton Newcombe, a self-sabotaging rockstar if there ever was one. The Dandys always persisted because they were “the most well-adjusted band in America”, and they continued to pound out albums (and to a lesser degree, hits) for Capitol, climaxing with the disastrous indulgence-fest known as Odditorium or Warlords of Mars, a colossal bomb both commercially and creatively, largely due to the fact that the band now had their own studio and that Taylor-Taylor was free to do whatever he wanted (nine-minute album-opening rock epics chief among them).
Capitol stopped caring about the band and the band stopped caring about their label, and soon the Dandy’s broke off and formed Beat the World Records, which, though not as provocative as, say, The Record Business Is Fucked, still made the point that the Dandy’s were now running their own lives, living by their own rules, and completely and totally free to do whatever they want…
...which, unfortunately, means that they’re basically going even further into the rabbit hole located in Taylor-Taylor’s navel.
...Earth to the Dandy Warhols… is the group’s first self-released album, and it easily ranks as one of their worst. True Dandy aficionados know that the group’s first disc, 1995’s independently-released Dandys Rule, OK?, is where most of their best songs are kept, truly bringing a modern edge to the psych rock of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s that Taylor and Co. so joyously worship. That’s not to say that it was the group’s only triumph. Songs like “Last Junkie…” and “We Used to Be Friends”, along with albums like Thirteen Tales from an Urban Bohemia, proved to be both retro-leaning and forward-thinking in equal measure. However, as time wore on, highlights started to be spread thin over their discs, as Taylor had somehow convinced himself that as long as you have an ample groove, you can keep piling instruments on top of it until you have something equaling genius. If you were put off by the musical fantasias that colored and presided over every moment of Odditorium, then you may very well hate Earth, as Taylor has now followed his muse to its wits end.
Though opening track/lead single “The World the People (Come On)” is designed as a classic Dandys single—think along the lines of “Bohemian Like You”—the numerous, persistent elements (handclaps, drums, distortion, Taylor’s eternally-filtered vocals) wind up leaving the chorus a mixed, aural mush where virtually nothing is decipherable. Though the disco-aping “Welcome to the Third World” attempts to deliver a story almost entirely in the form of pick-up lines, it’s hard not to feel that Taylor achieved this effect by walking up to the microphone intent on recording whatever stream-of-conscious lyrics came tumbling out of his skull, all without a chorus to ground his ramblings with. Most of these songs pull a similar trick: making you think that their choruses are huge and catchy. Yet when each melodic phrase is repeated ad nauseum for the entire duration of the track, the impact of these melodies is reduced to zero, all while a majority of ...Earth to the Dandy Warhols… passes by in a stoned haze, melodies entering one ear before immediately leaving through the other.
The longer that Earth drags on, the more preposterous it gets. There’s the meandering “And Then I Dreamt of Yes”, the mindless “Beast of All Saints”, and—most glaringly of all—the closing duo of “Valerie Yum” and “Musee d’Nougat”. The former is a seven-minute rocker where the primary lyric is the word “yum” recited to infinity and back, all while the song stops half-way through to become a slowed-down epic that gradually turns back to its original pace, signifying, ultimately, nothing. “Musee”, meanwhile, does nothing to dispel the notion that the band was somehow intoxicated during the sessions for this record, as it turns out to be a 14-minute Windam Hill-styled keyboard workout that alternates between two lonesome tones while barely-coherent French dialogue is whispered out of the left stereo channel. These are the kinds of experiments best relegated to high school bands with bootlegged copies of ProTools and oodles of free time, not by a seasoned group of alt-rock veterans with a fantastic set of hits and acclaim to their name.
With all that said, though, Earth does contain some redeeming moments. “Love Song” is a joyous blast of banjo-assisted sunshine that would sound out of place on just about any one of the Dandys’ previous releases, but sounds like a breath of clarity here. The almost punk-like “Now You Love Me”, meanwhile, actually picks up a lot of momentum leading into the album’s disastrous second half, here even utilizing a wordless chorus that would sound great when sung with a throng of fans in a packed stadium. Truly, this is the Dandy Warhols that we miss: fun, exciting, wild, different, and licked with just that perfect balance of pure pop joy and daring experimentalism. Unfortunately, these are the album’s only takeaways.
Earth has been available for digital download via the Dandy Warhols’ official website for nearly two months now, largely due to the fact that with their own label, the group was able to cater to their audience directly, making as much profit as they could with the fewest middlemen inbetween. It’s nothing more than a slap to those fans, then, that the music is so maddeningly poor, all pointless experiments in how to construct a solid alt-rock groove before burying it in a grave made out of studio sheen. You’d think the band would’ve learned to shy away from such indulgence after Odditorium, but, instead, they went even further into their ethereal nether-regions and are showing no sign of stopping. According to Butch Walker, the Record Business is Fucked. After listening to Earth, it would appear that the Dandy Warhols are fucked as well.