5 out of 5
Produced by: Gregg Williams, Dave Sardy
Much as some albums from Blur or Oasis could be said to define the Brit Pop sound, I don’t know if there’s ever been a more perfect release to have captured the slink from 90s grunge and shoegaze into the 00s retro slacker cool than The Dandy Warhols’ Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia. It’s all in the band’s name; in that album title; in the cover art. It’s in the sequencing, which dares to “kick things off” with contemplative, 5+ minute stoner haze tracks – which, definitely not coincidentally, are named ‘Godless,’ ‘Mohammed,’ and ‘Nietzsche’ – before shifting into smirk-affixed pop like ‘Country Leaver’ and ‘Horse Pills.’
My struggle with the Dandys has generally been their balance between more deep, affecting fare, and their Pavement-y affectation of who-cares ‘tude; this disc nails that ratio by having the latter seem like a reaction to the former, instead of an umbrella of sassiness that hangs over the entire listen. For me, that allows room to sink into the record before the distancing of its humor rears its head; and I can’t speak for other listeners, obviously, but structurally I think it gives the album both NPR and MTV bona fides – you’ve got Velvet Underground hanging with, like, Weezer.
The aforementioned trio of tracks that start the album are a purely brazen Dandys move, that only works because of perfect production which mingles guitar warmth with a low-end snap, and Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s mastery of drawl – Godless is catchy without trying; dense without sounding like it’s dragging you through a wall of guitars. Mohammed and Nietzsche open this sound up a bit further but maintain the pace, and then it’s the quirky country stomp of Country Leaver; the alt-rock rave-up of Horse Pills. Having thus proven that the band can be both serious and silly, right at the midway point they do both, bringing in superstar producer Dave Sardy for the brilliant Get Off, a single which captures the zeitgeist of an I-want-it-now generation. From hereon out, the album can do as it pleases, comfortable in its skin such that the group can cycle between intimacy (‘Sleep’), more Sardy singles (‘Bohemian Like You’), or bring back the shoegaze for another 5+ minute track – fuzzed up closer ‘The Gospel.’
Thirteen Tales is one of the genius albums that defines forwards and backwards – it sets a precedent for what other bands will strive for, and retains its status as what the pose its striking should look and sound like. It is a timeless album, and still stands as the perfect cross-section of the Dandys’ strengths.