In a pop-music world where image is all, the Dandy Warhols are fortunate to possess a stratospheric level of coolness. But these four’s uniform good looks, runway-worthy ensembles, heaven-sent melodies and platinum sales in the U.K. still aren’t enough to make them feel like the rock stars they deserve to be. “We don’t sell a lot of records in America, so we’re being insulted constantly,” gripes Courtney Taylor-Taylor, he of the bee-stung lips and classic bone structure. “Every aspect of this business is just one slap in the face after another, right down to secretaries who didn’t do this or whatever because ‘Oh, we got too busy.’” But Taylor-Taylor fails to mention the Portland, Oregon, band’s stellar soundtrack placement — we’re talking blockbusters like There’s Something About Mary, Good Will Hunting and, lately, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, not to mention the indie critics’ pick Igby Goes Down and even Vodaphone commercials — you couldn’t ask for better PR. “We’re kind of a favorite for filmmakers,” he admits, “but everyone who sees the movie and hears our song will have no idea who we are.”
It’s a maddening paradox, all right, and the Dandy Warhols neatly sum it up in the title of their new Welcome to the Monkey House. If the band — Zia McCabe (keys), Brent DeBoer (drums), Peter Holmstrom (guitar) and Taylor-Taylor (vocals/guitars) — are gonna have a domestic breakthrough, Monkey House will probably be it. It’s also the album that could piss off a few fans. Were you hoping for the near-perfect triangulation of Neil Young, the Byrds and Swervedriver that was The Dandy Warhols Come Down? No backtracking here. How ’bout the Keith Richards swagger sprinkled with spaghetti-Western horns on 13 Tales From Urban Bohemia? Nuh-uh. “When we make albums, they’re a response to a need that we feel isn’t being met, and for this record we asked ourselves, ‘Where’s all the champagne and caviar? Where are the Roxy Musics? Where are the Duran Durans? The David Bowies?’ We had to retaliate against all the dumb-ass garage-rock Strokes rip-offs out there . . . when shoegazer records were four years out of style, we made a shoegazer record. When all that cretin rap-metal was happening, we did a Stones record. We see what everyone else is doing and go off in the opposite direction.”
When it came to filling the elegance gap, the Dandies didn’t cut corners: T. Rex and Bowie helmer Tony Visconti, along with Duran Duran founder/heartthrob Nick Rhodes, produced Monkey House; D.D. front man and consummate new-romantic fop Simon Le Bon lent backing vocals to “Plan A”; the ax-pertise of Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers finesses “I Am a Scientist.” And for the sentimental money-shot, good friend Evan Dando co-wrote “Last High,” a wispy dream elegy that could make you cry. “Evan’s an amazing songwriter. ‘Last High’ is my favorite song on the album — favorite of all our songs ever, probably.” But for all Taylor-Taylor’s talk of running counter to musical trends, and the Brit-mags rhapsodizing over the band’s new-wave-electro makeover, those juicy hooks are still here, like those on “We Used To Be Friends,” which blunt-force trauma couldn’t dislodge from your skull. And just when Monkey House’s sweetness and light approaches the saturation point, “Heavenly”’s cock-swinging riffs come thundering down before the final track’s gauzy, hypnotic swirls decrescendo into nothingness. Glamour-schmamour, Monkey House is still a Dandy Warhols record.
Really, though, what makes the Dandies the Dandies is their collective smirk. Chucking trad rock-lyric opaqueness right out the window, now-classic tunes such as “Horse Pills” (about an aging sexpot) and the famous “Bohemian Like You” are perfect examples of the band’s yarn-spinning penchant. “I finally printed up lyrics for this [album] because I started to realize my lyrics are fucking awesome,” says Taylor-Taylor. But did he cross a line with the memorably snide “I never thought you’d be a junkie, because heroin is so passé”? “But it’s true,” he protests. “The whole ritual [of shooting up], the stealing, the lying, it’s pathetic, and I wasn’t going to write one of those songs about how much it hurts. Fuck that.” But if you saw how on-it the Dandies were at the Sunset Junction Street Fair, even lyrics as spot-on as Taylor-Taylor’s become a moot point. “Musically, we just fuckin’ excel. There’s no big show involved, we just do our thing, get everyone going on the same vibe. If we had the business end of our shit as tidy as our music, our worries in this world would be over forever.”