The Dandy Warhols opened their 2003 album, Welcome to the Monkey House, with a brief, snide dig at record industry greed and illogic that ran, in part: "When Michael Jackson dies, we're covering 'Blackbird.'" The line was obviously intended as a flip reference to Jacko's control of the Beatles' publishing rights -- of course, "Blackbird" is a rather fitting song to record as a eulogy, though it's doubtful that the Dandys considered that at the time. But fate had some amusingly ironic, if insignificant, tricks in store when, six years later, Jackson's unexpected death occurred mere weeks before the release of an alternate version of that same album -- a version whose initial release had been prevented by the Dandys' own industry woes, and which featured all of the same songs except for the sadly newly relevant titular ditty. The story is that the bandmembers took the tracks (which they had co-produced with Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes) to be mixed in New York by Russell Elavedo (D'Angelo, Common, the Roots), but the results were rejected by Capitol Records and shelved in favor of a new version mixed (apparently without the band's involvement) by British pop engineer Peter Wheatley (Sugababes, Girls Aloud, Sophie Ellis-Bextor), which was released to mild but vaguely disappointing success and ended up as their second to last album for the label. The differences between the two versions, as fans heard once the Elavedo mix (dubbed The Dandy Warhols Are Sound) was self-released by the band in 2009, are roughly what one would expect after comparing the two engineers' prior clientele rosters. Not that these mixes make the Dandys sound like a grittily organic hip-hop/soul outfit on the one hand, or a glistening chart-pop act on the other -- this is essentially a rock & roll album either way -- but Sound is notably more stripped-down and spacious, with fewer of the synthesizers and electronic underpinnings that gave several Monkey House tracks their noted (and arguably prescient) new wave/synth pop vibe.
This helps to bring the songs closer to the rootsier, dirtier, and somewhat dubby approach of their previous albums, although it's hardly comparable to the gloriously noisy dronefests of their first two -- even if shifting "(You Come In) Burned" up, to open the album with a slow-building epic, is a nice nod to Dandys tradition. But yes, in a word, Elavedo's version is less poppy, even if in some ways it actually feels cleaner and more direct, since fewer layers of sound allow the songs to stand more fully on their own merits. (This is particularly true of easily overlooked numbers like "Heavenly" and "Rock Bottom," though it's not always necessarily to their benefit.) The big pop numbers -- which are now mostly slotted in a clump at the beginning of the record -- lose almost none of their tight, hooky appeal. Listening to both mixes side by side, song for song, the differences are readily evident and fairly striking -- though there are no substantive changes to the actual songs themselves. Oddly, though, listening to either version in full makes it much harder to notice any prominent differences, perhaps because of how well the tracks are incorporated into each version's distinctive sound-world. Ultimately, the differences between the two are not all that great. Sound may have a slight edge over the originally released version of this material, if only because it's truer to the band's initial intentions, and Dandy diehards will certainly find it worth checking out, but more casual fans who already own Monkey House can probably skip it unless they're looking for an intriguing lesson in the nuances of mixing. (The "new song," "Pete Int'l Spaceport," is merely four minutes of ambient effects washes, and should hardly be considered a selling point.) ~ K. Ross Hoffman