The Dandy Warhols' 'ROCKMAKER' Is a Noble Failure

BY Alex HudsonPublished Apr 1, 2024


In theory, making a straight-up alt-rock record in the year 2024 is a pretty good idea for the Dandy Warhols. As a relic of an era when straightforward guitar music had more cachet than it does now, the Dandies are in a good position to be the contrarians who dig in their heels and make their most old-school album yet. "There aren't a lot of heavy guitar records currently coming out that we like," frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor said in the band's press release, positioning his own band as the one to fill the void.

But if the goal is to prove that there are still new ideas to be wrung out of the instrument's six strings, ROCKMAKER isn't the album to get the point across. Pretty much all of these 11 songs are based around a single riff or groove that runs for three or four minutes before sputtering out — in the final seconds of the pointlessly punny "Danzig with Myself," frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor can heard saying "That's all we've got," as if to acknowledge that the musical idea is barely substantial enough to qualify as a song.

Of course, dynamic song structures have never really been the Dandy Warhols' strong suit — but, at their best, they've managed to turn their go-nowhere chord progressions into catchy bubblegum fun ("Bohemian Like You," "We Used to Be Friends") or psychedelic vibe-outs (basically all of 1997's The Dandy Warhols Come Down).

But here, with Taylor-Taylor's comically deep, half-spoken mumblings buried in Jagz Kooner's mix beneath bluesy fuzz riffs, there's nothing to cling onto. Even guest appearances by Frank Black (playing a beyond-distorted surf lick on "Danzig with Myself") and Slash (doing some wah-wah twiddling in the background of "I'd Like to Help You with Your Problem") fail to stand out in a noisy soundscape that leaves no room for much except the brickwalled riffs. The merry brass of "Root of All Evil" is a rare moment that actually distinguishes itself; the refrain of "Alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, nicotine" from "Must've Always Been a Thing" is similarly memorable, albeit not for the right reasons.

It's frustrating when some of the grooves show promise — in particular "Teutonic Wave," which has a chunky progression of power chords that could have easily become a catchy bit of candy-coated pop if Taylor-Taylor had bothered to write a proper chorus melody. Instead, he repeats "Yeah, we used to do it all the time" with a delivery that's so lazy and pitchy that it feels like a first-draft demo. As a riff rock mood board, most of the album passes by nicely enough, with the occasional embarrassing lyric (the aforementioned refrain in "Must've Always Been a Thing," repetitions of "Ring dong / Ring-a-ding dong" on opener "The Dooms Day Bells") being the only moments that are actively unpleasant to listen to.

Of course, there are plenty of good bands making guitar music with loud riffs, even if they're mostly not the ones ruling the charts. Even in a not particularly crowded field, it's hard to imagine what void ROCKMAKER is supposed to fill.

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