No one does a better job of making The Dandy Warhols unlikable than The Dandy Warhols. Over the course of 17 years and eight studio albums, the Portland-based group has reigned over its own too-cool-for-school universe where Velvet-worship never gets old and a feud with the similarly solipsistic Brian Jonestown Massacre—documented in the 2004 documentary Dig!—seems compelling. Granted, greatness occasionally rises to the surface: 2000’s Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia was good fun, and 2003’s Welcome To The Monkey House succeeded thanks to the production work of Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes. Sadly, none of that reluctant charm is on display in This Machine, an undistinguished slog of an album that counts an atrocious cover of “16 Tons” as one of its many grating moments.
Past Warhol albums have typically channeled a specific retro genre—’80s synth for Monkey House, straight-up psychedelia for 2005’s Odditorium Or Warlords Of Mars—but other than a stripped-down aesthetic, Machine is largely unfocused. Opener “Sad Vacation” is all fuzzed-out bass and zero hooks, while “I Am Free” plays like a tossed-off They Might Be Giants B-side. “Enjoy Yourself ”apes the band’s biggest hit, “Bohemian Like You,” but tries to have it both ways by affecting a winking, “We’re living in the past and don’t give a shit” posture.
That piss-take attitude carries over to “Alternative Power To The People”—a glitchy, pointless instrumental—as well as the aforementioned “16 Tons” cover. “Well They’re Gone” saves the album from complete ruin by ditching the amped-up ’tude in favor of a slow, haunting vibe that showcases Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s hushed vocals in the best possible light. It’s the sole bright spot on an album that finds the Warhols increasingly lost in their own echo chamber of invented cool.