Though wildly inconsistent, the Dandys were capable of producing glittering pop gems.
Jaime Gill 2010-07-12
It’s in pop music’s essential nature to be fickle, so it’s a fortunate band indeed whose individual albums are treasured long after they were made: a Sticky Fingers, Sgt Pepper’s or Nevermind is a rare beast. More often the only way anyone but die-hard fans remember defunct bands is through their singles, and therefore the only truly important album most acts ever release is their greatest hits. So what will the Best of the Capitol Years, The Dandy Warhols’ likeliest stab at immortality, say to music fans of the future?
Probably that the Portlanders weren’t terribly original, and certainly that they were wildly inconsistent. But the band was – just occasionally – capable of writing glittering pop gems. The opener here, Boys Better, provides first proof: buried under its layers of grimy guitar and droning FX are the unmistakeable contours of a brilliant tune, melodically instant and rhythmically insistent. It’s soon followed by the fantastically titled Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth, a sneering, preening, smart-arse attack on drugs chic with a “heroin is so passé” chorus so addictively catchy it became a freak UK hit in 1998.
That sneer rapidly became the band’s trademark: all the best Warhols songs find frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor savaging an ex-friend or girlfriend. It’s this sneer that makes Bohemian Like You – their only smash hit – much more ambiguous and interesting than its slacker anthem reputation suggests. It’s also the same sneer that propels the glitchy, twitchy, seven-inchy genius of We Used to Be Friends, a gaudy pop song with barely concealed loathing behind its insincere smile.
Sadly, it’s that same insincerity which means that when their pop instincts fail them, the band become distinctly unloveable. Scientist – titled I Am a Scientist on their Welcome to the Monkey House album; this is the version from the band’s … Are Sound LP – is plain lousy, its flimsy puns and irksomely ironic hip hop flourishes adding up to a joke that falls horribly flat. Even worse is All the Money or the Simple Life Honey: not so much a parody of Rolling Stones honky tonk as a parody of Primal Scream’s parody of the Stones.
There are other minor pleasures to be found here. Get Off boasts a breezy lollop and easy hummability, while the Slowdive-indebted Good Morning summons up a deliciously lazy, hazy atmosphere. But minor is the right word, and – those handful of almost accidental gems aside – the Best of the Capitol Years seems unlikely to trouble future pop historians greatly.