It’s always fascinating to see what happens to one-hit wonders, especially those conceived in the 1990s when few acts managed to age particularly well (their hit came in 2000, but was written in the 90s so we’ll count it). As ‘Bohemian Like You’ hitmakers The Dandy Warhols gear up for their ninth studio album, Distortland, the intrigue overcomes me. Have they developed as underappreciated artists, or is their post-Bohemian obscurity deserved?
As it turns out, Distortland may not be the ideal album to try to establish this on. The album begins optimistically, channeling that late 90s post-britpop sound into modern mediums with nu-gaze tendencies and oddly electro-inspired tonalities through ‘Search Party’. But this soon begins to disintegrate and fall apart, like a brightly burning meteorite entering the Earth’s atmosphere. However, this process is drawn out across ten tracks, winding down to the feeble climax of ‘The Grow Up Song’ which seems to close not just the album but the band’s career (particularly with parting line “I’ve got to admit, I’m too old for this shit”).
It’s not to say that Distortland is a bad album, but it’s not much beyond average. Fans will take greater value from it, but for casual listeners it feels like a band calling it a day. Tracks like ‘Semper Fidelis’ demonstrate a quasi-experimental bite that crunches along and feels like a lasting statement, but this is contrasting by the likes of ‘Pope Reverend Jim’ which feel like a cheesy 90s novelty track.
After sifting through the filler noise, the album can be cut down to four tracks worth listening to: the swiling melancholy joys of ‘Search Party’, the sinister crunches of ‘Semper Fidelis’, the swamp-rock lumbering gem that is ‘Catcher In The Rye’, the enjoyably mindless post-90s throwback ‘STYGGO’, and the weakened whispered farewell of ‘The Grow Up Song’. Other than that, the tracks either fail to make an impact or feel a bit too throwback. The only other exception may be ‘Doves’, which feels like it should be a show-opening jam track that maybe appears on live albums but is never studio recorded.
Distortland is either a shame or a sweet release depending on your perspective. If you see this as the band genuinely saying farewell, it’s a commendable release that tours their time in the limelight with a retrospective view. But if it’s just another stop on the journey, it’s a bitterly forgettable one. Even if this is the sound of a band bowing out, it would have been much better as a five-track EP. Either way, for better or worse, this is a band overstaying its welcome.