May 27, 2005

THE WALLFLOWERS -- REBEL, SWEETHEART

Wallflowers-Rebel, Sweetheart.jpg

Much like past efforts, quality songs abound

Over the course of their career, The Wallflowers have achieved a certain level of both likeability and familiarity. But with an evermore fickle music industry looking for fresh new artists and a constant shift in audience tastes, a new album from a onetime radio staple can go largely ignored -- and this band knows a thing or two about that.

With their fifth studio release, Rebel, Sweetheart (Interscope), The Wallflowers make another attempt to lure back some of the fans who have walked away over the last few years. It's been nine years since the band's breakthrough, Bringing Down the Horse, and lead singer Jakob Dylan remains the center of attention. He remains the sole songwriter and has retained a great knack for crafting hooks that few of his contemporaries can do as consistently. This is demonstrated on the album's first single, "The Beautiful Side," a mid-tempo California rocker that breezes from verse to chorus effortlessly.

The Wallflowers have never really been a singles band. Sure, they won a Grammy Award for their highest charting Billboard Hot 100 entry to date, "One Headlight," but the band is known more for the continuity of their albums, and Rebel, Sweetheart is no exception. The album's first track, "Days of Wonder," bounces along and features a combination of sharp acoustics, bright organ and optimistic lyrics. This track leads the album off without being too memorable. Its strength is that it fits the mold of other Wallflowers songs.

The standout is "We're Already There," the disc's fifth track. Great piano, courtesy of Rami Jaffe, underscores some of Dylan's finest metaphorical songwriting. When he sings "Here comes your silhouette, and more pillow talk," only a dense listener will miss the unavoidable conflict. And despite the overt feeling of surrender, the song isn't sentimental or sappy. Instead, it is to the point and honest in a way that few breakup songs are.

It wouldn't be a Wallflowers album without a lineup change, and this disc is no different. The addition of former Gigolo Aunts drummer Fred Eltringham only is noticeable on the poppy rhythm in "I Am a Building." This song also boasts a slightly New Wave, single-note synth intro that complements the drumming, pulling the focus of the song away from the simplistic lyrics ("My eyes are wide enough to see the way a sniper does, behind the barrel of a good gun/I am a building, that is here without doors").

"Nearly Beloved" begins the album's home stretch with an upbeat strum-and-twang vibe, which offsets the dire truths that lie within such lines as "If we could do better I know that we would/Maybe admit it now, we're not that good." Not all is grim in Dylan's world. Rebel, Sweetheart closes with "All Things New Again," a ray of hope that matches the optimism of "Days of Wonder."

It's hard to argue with a winning formula. Maybe The Wallflowers are past their sales prime, but let's face it: When a band still makes fantastic albums more than 10 years into its career, that's the real measure of success.

-- By Mike Madden

Posted by medleyville at May 27, 2005 09:00 PM
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