It’s a wonder that The Dandy Warhols ever got signed to a major label. It’s not that they aren’t a commercially viable band, in fact, they even had some hit singles in “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth” and “Bohemian Like You.” But of the three albums they released on Capitol Records, two first drafts of those were rejected by the label. The Black Album, the album that was notoriously shelved before the group went back to the studio and recorded The Dandy Warhols Come Down, was deemed too dark and far too anti-commercial to release. And one version of their fourth album, Welcome to the Monkey House was met with resistance as well, though not in quite as dramatic a fashion. In this case it wasn’t the songs that were the problem, but the mix; initially, the mixing job for the album was done by Russell Elavedo, a Grammy-winning engineer whose credits include Common, The Roots, Alicia Keys and D’Angelo. And in spite of Elavedo’s pedigree, the warm, soulful sound he lent to the album, as opposed to the flashier, electro-heavy sound on the official release, just didn’t seem to work for Capitol.
Six years after the release of Monkey House, the Dandys finally made the Elavedo mix of the album available through their own label, Beat the World Records. Titled The Dandy Warhols ARE Sound, the alternate version of the album is both familiar and strikingly alien, an assemblage of the very same songs on their 2003 album, but in drastically altered form. Sequencing-wise, ARE Sound turns Monkey House almost literally upside-down, by placing that album’s closer, “You Come In Burned,” at track one. By making this move alone, the very integrity of the album is changed drastically, opening up a psychedelic cabinet of curiosities rather than telling a joke at the beginning, as the minute-long intro of Monkey House did. One of the album’s best tracks, “Burned” makes for a swirling, throbbing head trip that only heightens anticipation and mystique for the epic ride to come. In its place as the closing track, however, is “Pete International Spaceport,” an inessential track of sci-fi ambience that Capitol was right to want to scrap.
What’s most notable about ARE Sound, however, is how well it seems to tone down and streamline the group’s indulgent tendencies, resulting in an album that flows better and exudes a cooler, dirtier and more organic atmosphere. “Scientist,” which was titled “I Am A Scientist” on the Capitol-approved version, fares much better here, its gaudy synthesizer squeals toned down a bit, drum machines swapped for live beats and its organic soul restored. In fact, despite being one of the group’s more popular tracks, “I Am A Scientist” has always been one of their most shrill moments as a band, showing that without proper restraint, The Dandy Warhols can easily overdo it. Here, that’s not a problem. Similarly, “Wonderful You,” better known as “The Dope,” is a sexy and stoned disco jam, recalling ESG more than Fischerspooner, and sounds significantly better for it. The group extends “Plan A” by a good minute, lengthening its intro before launching into the groove-heavy rocker, which sounds more natural here, and just a bit scruffier in all the right ways. And “I Am Sound” comes across less as “Ashes to Ashes” homage and more of a beautifully melancholy space-pop song.
Making what ultimately would have been a vastly improved record just the slightest bit frustrating, however, is that the more lo-fi sounding mixes actually work against the best songs on Welcome to the Monkey House. Hearing “We Used to Be Friends” in a more tempered, laid back form removes the dazzle that made it an explosive highlight the first time around. And hearing it several dozen times on the credits to Veronica Mars makes it even harder to adjust, but I will admit there are some cool tricks at play here, even if it ultimately isn’t the definitive version. Likewise, “The Last High” seems a bit too long and too dry. The differences aren’t vast, but the effects and synths that made its chorus such a soaring triumph are buried too deep. And while “Heavenly” doesn’t carry the same handicaps as the singles, its escalation into its big, beefy chorus is essentially flattened, deflating the tension and anticipation of its most exciting moment.
Though most of The Dandy Warhols ARE Sound benefits from the alternate mixes here, it remains an imperfect product. As an album, it flows better, and leaves a lot more breathing room, but at the expense of some otherwise great singles. In the case of Welcome to the Monkey House, ultimately one vision won out over another, when compromise would have been the best solution (and part of that compromise should have been throwing out “The Dandy Warhols Love Almost Everyone”). The Dandy Warhols ARE Sound is a good album, and, hell, could even stand up to the peaks they reached on Come Down and Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia. Just forgive me if I’d prefer to splice in the Capitol versions of “We Used to Be Friends” and “The Last High” on iTunes.
The Dandy Warhols – Welcome to the Monkey House
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – BRMC
Spoon – Gimme Fiction
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.