From the Archive: Welcome to the Monkeyhouse

As might be able to predict, these first few weeks of the “From the Archive” feature involve methodically tracking through the various sources from which most future installments are likely to be drawn. My two primary collegiate sources duly covered, it’s time to move ahead a few calendar years. When I was living and working in central Florida, I was lucky enough to be in the orbits of some exceedingly interesting people, including an individual who is the most remarkable manifestation of the word “indefatigable” I’ve ever met. Among the many, many endeavors of my friend Dave was founding and publishing a weekly newspaper called The Independent Journal. He naturally recruited his cohorts into the endeavor, which is how I found myself writing music reviews for the first time ever (not including the little blurbs affixed to the front covers of albums and CDs at WWSP-90FM back in the day).

The process was simple: I’d look through the bounty of new releases that flooded the college radio station I advised at the time, pick the album that held the most promise as something that would be interesting to write on whether it was good or bad, listen to it repeatedly in my office when it wasn’t needed in the main booth (usually during classical music programming), and dash off a review just in time for the shifting deadline of the paper, feelings of inadequacy abounding as I turned it in. It would be years and years before Spectrum Culture afforded me the chance to write about music again. The Independent Journal provided a useful, shaky warm-up. As usual, I employ the style of the publication for the transcription here. I also fixed one language era, because I couldn’t stand the idea of leaving in “born out” as a mistake.

The most British-sounding band ever to come out of Portland, Oregon, the Dandy Warhols have never been shy about flaunting hip influences, a habit which naturally continues here. The album title is nicked from a collection of Kurt Vonnegut stories and the zippered banana that graces the cover manages to evoke the two most famous album covers designed by their pop art namesake: The Velvet Underground & Nico and Sticky Fingers.

Musically, though, there’s less overt lifting than they’ve indulged in previously. In crafting songs, frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor is usually satisfied to merge a pleasant hook with a handful of words that are simple to remember and fun to repeat, and then offer up raspy vocals worthy of Daniel Ash. “Hit Rock Bottom” even picks up enough lowdown sexy grind sound to settle in unobtrusively between “The Teardrop Collector” and “So Alive” on Love and Rockets’ self-titled album. That simple formula isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the intoxicating lead single “We Used to Be Friends” proves.

But there’s this lingering sense that the band could be so much more if Taylor-Taylor would simply expand his songwriting ambitions. This is borne out by “You Were The last High,” a collaboration with former Lemonhead Evan Dando as part of his recent halfhearted comeback attempt. With just a little fleshing out, the song becomes compelling and evocative, with weirdly touching grace notes like “I was the first to have spoken/And I said just about/All the things you shouldn’t say.” Even the minute-long goof that opens the album (“Wire is coming back again/Elastica got sued by them/When Michael Jackson dies/We’re covering ‘Blackbird'”) grabs your attention just by having a lyric more complicated than the disaffected mantras that otherwise take up the Dandy’s time.

Others, beside Dando, abetting on this release include Duran Duran‘s Nick Rhodes, picking up his first producing credit since he helped usher Kajagoogoo‘s debut album into the world, and producer Tony Visconti, who made his name behind the boards for David Bowie and T-Rex and started methodically disassembling that named with The Alarm and I-Know-You’re-Out-There-Somewhere-era Moody Blues. Niles Rodgers completists can lavish in the Chic mastermind’s funktastic guitar work on “I Am A Scientist.”

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