Graded on a Curve:
The Dandy Warhols, Tafelmuzik Means More When You’re Alone

The opening track of The Dandy Warhols’ 2020 release Tafelmuzik Means More When You’re Alone is entitled “It’s the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Bored.” Well so do I, and the reason is this album, which in case you haven’t heard is four hours long. I’ve loved the Dandys since I first heard “(Tony This Song Is Called) Lou Weed,” but the only way I’ll listen to this 240-minute trudge again is by getting too wasted to get up and turn it off.

The Dandy Warhols have been the personification of the cool groove since their 1995 debut Dandys Rule OK. Over the intervening years they’ve been producing infectious songs for discerning hipsters, many of which can be heard on the band’s 2010 compilation The Capitol Years 1995-2007. Feel free to stop by the house and I’ll treat you to my favorites. That or I can snatch you off the street and hold you hostage. It’s your choice.

But on Tafelmuzik (that’s table music to those of us who refuse to learn German because we’re still holding a grudge over WWII) The Dandy Warhols dispense with the infectious grooves, irresistible melodies, and irrepressible good humor that have given us such great indie anthems as “Boys Better” and “Every Day Should Be a Holiday.” Message to The Dandy Warhols—a Tafel isn’t good for much there’s nothing on it.

The longest of Tafelmuzik’s eleven tracks weighs in at approximately thirty-seven minutes; six of its cuts top the twenty-minute mark. Their length lends them a hypnotic power; give them a couple of hours and you may find yourself a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. But most listeners (yours truly included) will give each of Tafelmuzik’s songs a few minutes of their valuable time before moving on. That said, these same songs will delight sofa dwellers who don’t set too high a premium on trivial things like excitement and euphoria and who have nothing better to do with their ears.

I can imagine—almost—a four-hour long Dandy Warhols album that would both break new ground and keep you listening. And it’s right there in the LP’s two final tracks, “Zia Rolls Another” and “The After Bath.” They’re the shortest cuts on Tafelmuzik by a long shot—both weight in below the eight minutes mark—and are eminently listenable, exciting even.

“Zia Rolls Another” is beat-heavy eighties-era synthpop you can dance to; “The After Bath” possesses a percussion force and synthesizer pulse and would sound right at home playing over the closing credits of a Jason Statham film—or a Dandy Warhols album for that matter (check out “Be-In” from the band’s 1997 LP The Dandy Warhols Come Down). The irony is that both songs could go on longer and hold my interest. Had “Zia Rolls Another” and “The After Bath” served as templates, Tafelmuzik would be a very different animal.

The “alone” in the album’s title obviously refers to the enforced solitude stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic, just as that “bored” in the opening track describes the age’s collective mental gestalt. But do The Dandy Warhols really believe that musical ennui is the solution to the real-life variety? I have better things to do with my alone time than listen to Tafelmuzik Means More When You’re Alone. I might learn how to play the alphorn (the neighbors would love it!). Or let my cats dress me up in silly outfits and post the photos on Instagram. Or reminisce fondly on events from my childhood such as the time I told my mom I loved Three Dog Night and she punched me in the throat.

There’s no denying that part of my animus toward the LP stems from the fact that it possesses none of The Dandy Warhols’ tambourine-shaking joie de vie. As it is, Tafelmuzik Means More When You’re Alone is the Dandy Warhols’ Metal Machine Music. It’s more listenable by a hundredfold, but just like Lou Reed’s 1975 fuck you to his fans, no one saw Tafelmuzik coming, and only diehard Dandy fans will want to own it. Speaking just for myself, I haven’t been so blindsided since my mom sucker-punched me way back in grade school. Let’s hope Tafelmuzik is a one-off experiment. If not, I’m going to call my mom.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D+

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