Teenage Music Revisited: ‘Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia’ by The Dandy Warhols (2000)

24th May 2021

In the final instalment of this series, I’m revisiting an album that I bought on the strength of a mobile phone advert. It might not sound like the most auspicious start, but man, I’m glad I did.

Back in 2001, Vodafone used a song called Bohemian Like You in a TV commercial. I’d never heard of the band, but with its catchy hook, swaggeringly irreverent lyrics and retro, Rolling Stones-esque sound, I liked it enough to buy the single. The B-side boded well (an interesting re-working of AC/DC’s Hells Bells with added trumpets), but even so, I’d have assumed that the album would be par for the course circa 2001: the familiar single release along with one or two other decent tracks, and a whole load of forgettable filler. How wrong I was.

13 Tales quickly became one of my favourites. Although I listened to it throughout my mid- and late- teens, the abiding association of the album is with university as it featured prominently in my undergraduate soundtrack. Along with MFV’s Alastair JR Ball, I even saw the Dandies live on their UK tour – I’d never seen so much pot blatantly smoked in public. It was a cracking gig.

It’s still a personal favourite now, so to be honest, this is a record that I will struggle to appraise objectively. Even after the intervening years, I still think it’s a strikingly creative and wildly eclectic collection that starts with a meandering epic with a reflective ambience (Godless) and finishes with a swaying, hung-over country-infused tune (The Gospel). In between, there’s everything from power pop anthems, to silly, self-aware ditties, to psychedelic metaphysical wanderings. And Bohemian Like You, of course.

The Dandy Warhols

It’s a record that clearly has a multitude of influences, in some places entering homage territory with knowing nods to this or that band. It isn’t afraid to pick up a style and run with it for a track or two. This is clever, informed rock and roll made by a group with eclectic tastes. It sounds a bit like an amalgamation of a whole raft of late-60s bands. This was probably one of the reasons it was such a hit with me at the time, given how much time 15-year old me spent listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Beach Boys and The Beatles back then. Although there are more modern influences mixed in as well (notably their ‘80s indie forerunners such as The Pixies), it feels like the Dandies set out to make the definitive pastiche of the music of the late ‘60s.

Thematically, it’s also varied, covering ‘frenemies’ (a recurring Dandies theme), dating, regret and spiritual musings. The Dandies have a bit of a pot-head image, and whilst a lot of 13 Tales does indeed go well with a J, this is far from just stoner music (in the way that their preceding album, Come Down, arguably is). Given the image, there are surprisingly few explicit drug references, other than the derogatory Horse Pills. In this sense, it reminds me of the ever-influential Sgt. Peppers – another record casually assumed to be full of drug songs that actually rarely mentions them.

This is one of those records that’s worth listening to in order, start to finish. I still enjoyed Bohemian Like You, reminiscent as it is of many an undergraduate party, although it’s probably fair to say I somewhat overplayed it back in the day. On this re-listen, the highlights include the first three tracks – Godless, Mohammed and Nietzsche – which together form the album’s most psychedelic section. I love how they fit together as a set piece. Elsewhere, there’s the highly satisfying full-speed power pop of Get Off (if there’s ever been a better use of the phrase ‘hot diggity dog’ in rock, I’ve never heard it) and the delicate ballad, Sleep. The latter was a song I remember skipping frequently back in the day because it’s a bit of a downer, but don’t – it’s brilliant.

The Dandy Warhols

Overall it’s a remarkably accomplished album; a band at the height of their creative power. I loved it then, and I still do. It’s ace.

Revisiting 13 Tales feels like a fitting conclusion to this ten-week sojourn through the music that defined my teens. It generates mixed feelings; there sure is nothing like realising that your teenage albums are now firmly in the ‘dad rock’ category to make you middle aged.

But hey, it’s your mindset that matters, right? We may grow up. We may get careers and responsibilities, give up smoking, have kids, get bald or fat, or whatever. But music remains a constant. We might not have the time to pore over albums in the way we did when we were 16. But we can still enjoy a classic, or discover a new one. We can still develop and explore our tastes or interests. We’re still bohemian, like you.

Music is pretty subjective. I mean, I think 13 Tales is excellent; in fairness, you might think it’s rubbish. But that’s OK. We relate to music on an emotional level, especially during those formative years when everything seems freighted with significance. That connection means more than the opinions of every former NME critic combined, in my book.

The Dandy Warhols

In more recent years, a new generation has been introduced to the Dandies through their song We Used To Be Friends (from 2003’s Welcome To The Monkey House) featuring as the theme for cult TV series Veronica Mars. I really hope that at least some of those people end up discovering 13 Tales too. Just like I did through the unlikely medium of a cellphone advert, twenty years ago.

Listen to: This is one that is worth playing from start to finish. But failing that, start with Get Off, Godless and Bohemian Like You.

Don’t listen to: N/A.

You might not know: The music video for Bohemian Like You was rarely shown, due to featuring full-frontal male and female nudity – necessitating pixelated censoring for daytime broadcast.

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Moderate Fantasy Violence © Nick Bryan & Alastair JR Ball 2016