When I first popped the disc Neon Life by Dashboard Madonna into my CD player, I heard music smooth as butter on silk, but without the clean-up. With primarily soft and relaxed, though upbeat, vocals and instrumentals the album is easy to listen to—highly digestible and not unpleasant, but not what I expected, or wanted. While the female fronted group can sound sexy at times, especially on tracks like “The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress,” “Hitman’s Lullaby,” and “Bond Girls,” vocalist Honey Rhider often sounds sleepy, and the overall sound of the album is unmoving.
My first look at the bright—almost clashing—colors, screen printed style images, and hodgepodge song title fonts of the album cover made me think Sex Pistols and Sonic Youth meet Andy Warhol. In short, thoughts were conjured of music and and art the tries to stir things up and test boundaries. Similarly, the band name Dashboard Madonna (mixing the religious with the banal) and the likeness on the album cover of a Madonna with a dollar bill style “1” stamped across her chest, suggested to me a potential cultural or social critique. For a band that started out as a “classic soul concept” according to their publicist, all aspects of this album are decidedly easygoing, though—even on a cover of Motorhead’s “Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
As I relaxed and let the music pull me down its lazy river of sound, however, I did find some appealing aspects that had initially slipped by me. The steel guitar intro to “The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress” is charming, and the acoustic guitar on “Slam Dunked,” as well as the short distorted solo, is noteworthy. The bass playing throughout, especially on “Up and Away,” is energetic, and “King of Contradictions” and “Talk is Cheap” are particularly funky tracks. The introduction to “Oh Boy” is attention getting, and “High Roller” has more spirited vocals than much of the album. The scratching and keyboard solo on “Up and Away” are also playful.
If you are a fan of straight up rock and roll or punk, this album may not be for you. Yet, if you like softer pop or alternative styles, such as Katy Perry or Beck, you may want to check it out.