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Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia

music reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia

Artist: The Dandy Warhols
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: August 2000

Review by LarryG
2½ stars out of 4

Portland, Oregon's The Dandy Warhols are very cool. They're hip and good looking. Their songs have a slacker vibe and a cool, dense atmosphere. Sometimes the band has seemed more concerned with attitude than making strong music. On The Dandy Warhols Come Down's Cool As Kim Deal, Courtney Taylor sang "I'd rather be cool than be smart." However, Dandy Warhols can make great music. The singles from Come Down had excellent melodies to go with their psychedelic atmosphere. Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth was a cool, buoyant update on Pet Sounds era Beach Boys and ELO's Don't Bring Me Down. Every Day Should Be a Holiday, with its weird resemblance to ZZ Top's Legs and the Miami Vice theme, and Boys Better were trippy fun. The good news about Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia is most of the songs are about more than attitude and are fun, well made pop songs.

The first few songs, modeled on Heroin and other dreamy pieces from the Velvet Underground & Nico, give the impression Thirteen Tales will be more about atmosphere than melody. Godless has a suitably vague David Lynch style video and takes a leisurely 5 minutes. It slowly builds from Zia McCabe's keyboard drone, adding an acoustic guitar then a majestic trumpet. With Taylor's affectless vocals, calling someone "a soulless friend", Godless has an alluring, cool mood. But there are diminishing returns when it segues into Mohammed, another slow, vague 5+ minute song with spacy keyboards, slow guitars and a trumpet accompanying Taylor's repeated account of wanting to do the right thing but being haunted by demons. Then comes the slightly louder keyboard drone of Nietzsche. The lyric increases doubts that the band is too smart for their own good. It consists solely of Taylor's allusion to the philosopher: "I want a God who stays dead/not plays dead."

After the posing of the first three songs, 13 Tales suddenly becomes a very enjoyable pop record. Dandy Warhols try a variety of pop idioms and pull them all off. Get Off is clean straight ahead guitar pop with the upbeat but idealistic sound of bands like James and The Waterboys. Solid is the kind of loose rocker the band does best. It has quirky keyboards and backing vocals and a nice big guitar riff reminiscent of REM's cover of Strange. Taylor plays a laughably self satisfied airhead who "must have a door in the back of my head where I dump out all the crap so I can just feel solid." Cool Scene is likably simple Monkees, Byrds or Beatles style light psychedelic pop. Taylor seriously plays the role of a teen ready to leave school because he's "just not making the scene." Bohemian Like You is 13 Tales' highlight. I mean it as a compliment that it sounds like BTO's Taking Care Of Business. Both are perfect pop confections. Like Boys Better, it's sleek and hooky. With a clean guitar and keyboards, it shows the band's skill at creating an irresistable wall of sound. Unlike the band's normally minimal lyrics, Bohemian Like You's is hilariously detailed, depicting the start of the relationship of a downtown couple made for each other since they both wait tables, play in struggling bands and have cool hairdos. They survive their first crisis as he decides it's O.K. that her ex is staying in her apartment, if he "pays the rent and doesn't get bent about sleeping on the couch when I'm there." Shakin' is also fun. Over cheesy, theatrical electronics, Taylor plays the affected Scary Monsters era Bowie, keeping his cool as he sings about being won over by a young lass. Country Leaver strays into the territory of Beck's post modern country from his Mutations CD. It has a relaxed feel with hand claps and good slide guitar. Taylor easy vocals match the lyrics:"I hope when I see you, you're liking who I am but if you don't, I understand." Horse Pills also has a Becklike feel with Taylor doing an ironic talk rap. Horse Pills' tale of the silliness of a Hollywood life of big drugs, purchased boyfriends and pretension("sometimes you feel like Moses, that's when you're toasted") is a little cutesy but it's carried nicely by Pete Holstrom's chunky guitar riffs. The band are also able to be serious without getting pretentious. The ballad Sleep has an uncharacteristically minimal arrangement and an appropriately subdued, dreamy sound. Taylor is appealingly vulnerable as he longs for a life where he can forget about everything and just dream of his love. Big Indian is a pleasant, mellow throwaway. Taylor thanks his friends for helping him through the frightening times.

Songs 4-12 of Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia is good, very fun edgy pop. With various forms of psychedelic pop and rock or just straight forward rock, The Dandy Warhols make a great variety pack. The good songwriting, guitars and keyboards create consistently inventive, rich songs. I might have tossed the first three heavier songs or, at least, moved them to the back but the entire package is well worth buying.



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