Fine And Dandy

Eschewing the notion of rock 'n' roll as merely another form of work — a concept that has certainly taken root amongst the materialistic offspring of neoconservatism — the Dandy Warhols harken back to the pre-1980s days, when rock 'n' roll was supposed to be an escape from all that.

Key to the Portland, Ore., quartet's overall conceit is the figure of the dandy, whom French poet Charles Baudelaire described as a human kaleidoscope whose "vaporization and centralization of the self" allows him to reflect a myriad of images back at the world. Or, as pop-culture dandy Andy Warhol put it, "You can be anything. No one knows." In the Dandy Warhols' case, that means filtering classic-rock sounds through their own peculiarly contemporary sensibilities.

What other band would have the cheek to lead off their third album with a song called "Godless" (RealAudio excerpt), which features a mutation of the guitar riff from George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord"? Yet this dose of double irony — not only in the song's atheistic title but also in its brazen "borrowing" of a song that was itself famously put on trial for plagiarism — detracts not one iota from its own seductive ethereality, a musical cloud of incense, punctuated by trumpet bursts, that brings to mind Love's classic 1967 album, Forever Changes.

Courtney Taylor, the group's singer/guitarist and group focal point, uses his chameleonlike voice to suit each song. He's all breathy sighs on "Godless" and on the album's standout track, the deliciously dreamy "Sleep" (RealAudio excerpt). But he can also go deep and droll, as on "Horse Pills," which wittily chides a high-living, high-society gal in all the right ways. The group, who had a semihit with "Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth" (from their last album, '97's Come Down), again takes the piss out of its decadent reputation with "Get Off," a song that delineates the ironic quest of an addict who trades moments of ecstasy for a lifetime of slavery. ("I'm back on the nod/ Like a ball and chain. ... Hot diggety dog.")

Of course, no Dandy Warhols CD would be complete without a few, er, ah, "nods" to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground; this is, after all, the band that sang "(Tony, this song is called) Lou Weed" on their 1995 debut. Here we get "Cool Scene," with a prototypical chugging VU riff neatly intermingled with Dick Dale surf guitar, and the humorous "Shakin'," which draws on the more unhinged "Head Held High" approach from the Velvets' Loaded. Another classic rocker creeping upward on the Dandymeter is Kinkster Ray Davies, who, it should be noted, once authored a tune called "Dandy." Suffice it to say that the Warhols' "Big Indian" (RealAudio excerpt) sounds so startlingly close to a Kink-y Davies tales, he may want to inquire about a writer's credit.

It's tempting to call the Dandy Warhols quintessentially "postmodern," but these days that's almost an insult. They may not always transcend their influences, but even when they don't, they make wallowing in them a helluva lot of fun.