The Dwarves - The Dwarves are Young and Good Looking (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Dwarves

The Dwarves are Young and Good Looking (1997)


The Dwarves are Young and Good Looking was the second of four resurrections by the Dwarves. Although Blood, Guts, and Pussy was an undisputable classic- 13 minutes of combustible, violent, sex-fueled, intelligent hardcore- the follow ups, Thank Heaven For Little Girls and Sugarfix received little support from the band’s label. While Blood Guts reveled in cheap, blown out production, the successors suffered for it. White noise and screeching made “Fuck you up and get high” that much more vicious, but those same attributes sapped newer tunes such as “Johnny Glue” and “Anybody out there” of some of their primal power.

Following a botched death prank involving HeWhoCannotBeNamed, it seemed that the band would come to a riotous end, remembered for their yuk-yuk more than their recorded output (though, one must point out that maybe “botched” isn’t the right word for the prank as it did pretty much what most pranks are designed to do- piss people off for different reasons).

So, no one expected anything much of the Dwarves as they went into hibernation, or even, break-up status, depending on your interpretation. But, following a few false starts, frontman Blag Dahlia commenced working on what he had been hinting at since the end of “Motherfucker.”

After years of work, Dahlia reveled what, at the time,  he likely considered his masterwork - The Dwarves Are Young and Good Looking. What made the record so striking was how it both applauded convention as well as fought against it.

Gone was the shit-can production of the early days, replaced with a slick, high powered, high fidelity sound, created with the help of producer Eric Valentine. Of course, one of the clichés of music is that “pop” music is cleanly produced and toothless, whereas “punk” music is raw and has a bite. Yet, Good looking was the first, or one of the first, super-chic hardcore records. Green Day demonstrated that punk could have a pop sound (if you consider Green Day punk), but were they singing about becoming pimps or punching people’s teeth out?

And this too, really was the genesis for one aspect that has both elevated the Dwarves, and to a degree, caused them joy and grief: with more defined vocals, people could actually hear what the band was saying. And, no doubt, there are some nasty characters in these 13 songs. But, as the Dwarves were wont to do since their debut as Suburban Nightmare, sometimes they spoke as themselves and sometimes they spoke through characters, examining street-types without passing judgment. Is “Pimp” really about Blag trying to be someone’s pimp, or is he looking through the eyes of street hustler to gains an understanding of that nasty fellow? Or, is he just baiting the audience? By the late 90s, punk had once again become very socially  conscious… was Blag attacking those types, or questioning whether art itself, and public commentary, could be hampered by overprotective hands?

Of course, the punk community and beyond, has had trouble understanding that not every Dwarves lyric is the band speaking for themselves, oft labeling them as sexist, misogynist, what have you… the result being that the band has played up this misconception with a sort of Devilish glee. Either you get the joke or you don’t- they’re not going to explain it to you. To a degree, opening track “Unrepentant” said as much. The band always wanted to be famous and wealthy, but they weren’t going to bend to convention or group thought to achieve such a goal. 

But, for all the kicking the Dwarves did at convention, they also reaffirmed their dedication to a timeless tradition- it has always seemed that no matter if they played punk or pop or garage or metal, the Dwarves are first and foremost devotees of classic rock and roll. You need look no further than Blag's thoughts on the contrasting sides of Elvis’ first single for evidence of that. So, with that mindset, the band also released songs like “Everybody’s Girl,” which was firmly rooted in 50s bopper tradition. It’s not hard to imagine Freddy cannon singing over that rhythm. Though, of course, being the Dwarves, the band injects a few barbs to make it avoid succumbing to pure poppiness.

Yet, too often, this contrast is seemingly underappreciated by fans and anti-fans alike. The band is sometimes labeled as something akin to GG Allin’s gutter-punk. That pure self-hatred isn’t evident here, and frankly, there’s more intelligence than the pure nastiness of GG here. The twisting lyrics of “The Crucifixion is now” prove that. But, on the other end, the Dwarves are sometimes painted as pop-punkers, chiefly due to the production and care for classic craft on these cuts. But, viewing pop-punk as a genre, there is far more coloring outside of the lines of convention here than any other band that would willfully assume such a term.

In a way, this was the central thesis of Young and Good looking. The band drew from elements across the rock spectrum, but refused to bend to any one set of rules. This of course, showed how they could appreciate rock by purposefully breaking it apart. And of course, this same thing may be the reason other bands got huge sacks of money thrown at them while the Dwarves fought for every penny. Despite (in accord with?) the fact that a nude woman with a skateboard adorns the cover here, and the fact that these lyrics are riddled with sex and violence, this is a record fundamentally about three things: integrity, intelligence, and being true to oneself. In a way, it's one of the most optimistic statements the band ever released... even if it has the humanity damning line “This Planet Earth has reached the point of no return /Now put them weenies on a stick and watch it burn …”