You probably don’t remember this – you did get pretty drunk, and made a fool of yourself before we had to call you a taxi – but late in 2003, whilst sitting around the large, round table towards the back of the bar, the consensus we all eagerly signed up to was: the year in music wasn’t too shabby. We debated the albums featured in part one of this (although it was a shame about the Aidan Moffat impression your foisted upon all present), and we agreed without dissent upon LGM’s nomination for Album Of The Year (I’ll refresh your memory in the third and final part).
Rather a grand night, all things considered – at least until you did that appalling thing we won’t be mentioning again. In fact, the only disparaging remarks that were made about the Significant Albums of ’03 were aimed at The Dandy Warhols. Band as cartoon construct – a danger that’s intrinsically dayglo safe. Style over substance – a West Coast slacker vibe that’s rubbed way too thin over the years. And then there’s Welcome to the Monkey House.
“Ah, I see the Dandys have read Kurt Vonnegut,” somebody said.
“If only they were the first to have consciously flaunted such specific, pseudo-literary pretensions,” came a response.
“I think I might have to go and vomit,” pronounced you, rushing to the bathroom.
Which is either all well-rounded analysis bathed in cold hard fact, or a one-dimensional snapshot that ignores the duality behind this record. That essence where there’s an album that hit the record racks – yet occasionally peaking out from behind is the LP the band wanted to make.
The story’s dribbled out over the years; essentially the finished disc was delivered, and not for the first time in Dandy history, Capitol Records weren’t impressed. It’s not that the original mix – subsequently self-released as The Dandy Warhols Are Sound – is especially non-commercial in timbre, but it did lack that ‘Bohemian Like You’ moment – that instant the record execs start hallucinating dollar signs during the first play-back session.
So Capitol did what any self-respecting music conglomerate would do – they parachuted in Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran (literally, I hope) to reassemble the material with a certain, slick sheen; the words we can use include: poppier, angled, posed. And as an album, it isn’t unsuccessful; there’s a few weaker tracks for sure, but so distinctive is the Dandy’s slacker rock aesthetic, experiencing within a different context really ratchets up the interest. Exposes nuance otherwise lost in the haze. You know – I’m actually rather taken with this album.
Other items we may have discussed that night. A Depeche Mode hiatus; both Martin L Gore (Counterfeit2)and Dave Gahan (Paper Monsters) released solo records in this year. The former is a covers album, and intrinsically disappointing. The latter – that left me quietly impressed, considering that it’s Gore and not Gahan that’s the principal DM songsmith. Don’t Try This At Home – the last LP released by Laptop – oozes a highly backlit glamour, or anti-glamour, or at least a specific something, pinioned to a seedy, mannequin elegance, loaded with electro-pop posture. You Are Free by Cat Power; Give Up by The Postal Service (‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ is a fantastic track); Electric Version by The New Pornographers – yup; purchased, played, played again. 2003 was that kind of year.
In the final part of this revisit to a land a decade ago, there’s a couple of records that I want to look at in detail. Hence I’ll finish up for now with Spiritualized, and the Amazing Grace LP. I know a couple of Spaceman devotees who fail to connect with this; the phrase “over-compensating for the excesses of previous album Let It Come Down” has been banded about these parts – and you can kind of see where such an opinion originates from, such is the pared-back nature of this disc. Tracks where there’s an expectation of depth about to kick in, only it never really arrives. It is, essentially, J spaceman’s garage rock record; gone are the majority of traces of the gospel choirs, the free-jazz dissonance, these buzzes and bleeps – which helps to create a different set-up for the intimacy.
Only; it’s arguable how gripping this all is. A Spiritualized record the listener can actually take at face value, rather than a presence that haunts in manifold, complex patterns. I’m not sure that’s the point of a J Spaceman record. It’s like heading to the bar in 2003, and not discussing music, or watching with weary amusement as you do something bad, say something bad, get us all thrown out, and leave a trail of mundane destruction around the streets of our classless city. Hmm.
The Dandy Warhols / We Used To Be Friends
The Postal Service / The District Sleeps Alone Tonight (DJ Downfall Persistent Beat Mix)
Spiritualized / Lord Let It Rain On Me