Sep 122011

Thank the iPod Shuffle gods for re-introducing me to The Wallflowers. I was a big fan of their universally ignored 1992 debut album (s/t The Wallflowers) and 4 years later was surprised that they got another shot, Bringing Down the Horse, and that it was a huge hit record. The two singles, “One Headlight” and “6th Avenue Heartache,” were good Adult Rock tunes (aka Dad Rock) in an era where there were plenty of them to choose from (Counting Crows, Hootie, Better Than Ezra, The Rembrandts, BoDeans, Cracker, and CU beneficiaries The Gin Blossoms), and since the record is so front loaded with hits, I tended to move on after my first 5-song fix. That was my mistake.

My iPod must be a big Wallflowers fan, because I hear them all the time, and not the singles usually.

Jacob Dylan sounds more or less like the other “sons of Dylan” (eg, Springsteen, Petty, Mellencamp, Knopfler), in fact his clean Tele strum sounds very Petty-ish and the organ, from Walflowers’ MVP Rami Jaffee, is “Like a Rolling Stone” meets the bands that wish they wrote that one (see list above). Jacob writes a good sad song, not quite to the level of Dire Strait’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but in that vein. He has some Elvis Costello in him as well; there is some anger behind his sadness.

The playing on this record is pretty safe, no huge solos, big crashes, fast tempos, etc. Jacob’s voice never soars, it keeps a pretty even keel. The 6- to 7-minute epics of the first record are left behind for 4- to 5-minute focus, but I think that is what I like about it, they don’t sound like they are trying to break a sweat (leave that to the second-tier grunge bands that were out at this same time).

The highlights of this record include “The Difference,” which was a hit single (4th one?), a slightly less angry version of  “Ashes To Ashes” from the s/t record (which was a flop as a single), taking some shots at an ex: “The only difference I can see is you are exactly the same as you used to be”; the slow ballad “Josephine,” a super-sad song with a pretty chorus: “Josephine, you’re so good to me/And I know it ain’t easy/Josephine, you’re so sweet/You must taste just like sugar and tangerines”; and the Stones-y “God Don’t Make Lonely Girls,” which could have been the fifth hit single from this record. (Then there’s “Laughing Out Loud,” which could have been the sixth!) All of these “highlights” come from the second half of this CD—the part that I never got to when this record was out!

Four singles (all hits) and extreme attention from the rock press (who didn’t want to interview Bob’s son?) may have been too much for the record-buying public; their next three records had no hits and fell off the charts quickly. Their “best of ” CD is 50% from this record and avoids a very dull cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” (their actual 5th hit).

So in closing, I propose a Rock Town Hall Critical Upgrade of The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse (and an honorable mention of their forgotten self-titled debut).


  24 Responses to “Critical Upgrade: The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse

  1. shawnkilroy

    i LOVE One Headlight.
    i’ve never really checked out any of their other stuff, but i really love that song so much.

  2. machinery

    I always enjoy them when they come on the radio. And I’m happy that the kid didn’t suffer the same fate as Julian Lennon. (even though he did have a bunch of hits.)

    Though I can’t help thinking they never reached quite the artistic heights of a similar-level band (in my eyes) The Jayhawks.

    You could say I’m a fan from afar.

  3. I bought their first album. It wasn’t bad, including the hit single, but every song went on too long. It’s funny how you describe them being more concise on this album, j2. For me, a “4- to 5-minute focus” in a pop-rock song could use a little more focus, especially when no one’s chewing up the scenery with a smoking solo.

    I remember hearing an interview with J. Dylan a few (5?) years ago in which he professed his love for The Clash. It was cool to hear. He sounded like a good egg. I could hear slight traces of The Clash in whatever song(s) he had out at the time, but everything was a little too polite and polished. Both his strengths and his weaknesses, to me, seem rooted in his Classic Rock On Tap approach. He may be one of those artists who needs to crossbreed with a complimentary semi-mainstream artist who can’t quite complete the circle of rock on his own, the way I feel about Lenny Kravitz and Matthew Sweet needing each other to create a whole album of original rock ‘n roll.

    Counting Crows, by the way, a band I couldn’t stand out of the gates, had a surprisingly good Clash-like single off their second or third album. I still can’t stand that band, but that one song they had out was fine.

  4. BigSteve

    I remember really liking this album. I haven’t heard it in years. I always assumed it was producer T Bone Burnett and mixing engineer Tom Lord-Alge who are the ones to thank for it being a cut above.

  5. jeangray


  6. 6th Ave Heartache is pleasant enough. In fact, everything I’ve heard by them is pleasant and non-threatening. If I didn’t have my ipod in the car and they came on, I probably wouldn’t change the station. If Hootie came on, I definitely would change the station.

  7. 2000 Man

    They made three more albums? Man, I never heard anything from any of those. I thought he was just getting going and then became a recluse or something. We’ve got a new station in Cleveland that I can’t make up my mind about, and they play new stuff and older stuff, all I suppose targeted at people my age. They play The Wallflowers and Counting Crows and John Mayer. When those sets come on, I tune out. But then they’ll play The Jayhawks, The Clash and Bowie and I’m sucked back in until they play Dave Matthews.

  8. Is 6th Ave Heartache four blocks away from 10th Avenue Freeze-Out? Or one block away from the whores on 7th Avenue?

  9. The Jayhawks are my favorite band post-1990 (going to see their “reunion” tour for the second time this year in a few weeks) and I would agree that The Jayhawks are a cut above The Wallflowers.

    I was pointing out that they deserve a solid B upgrade from the C they got from being lumped in with Hootie/Counting Crowes etc.

  10. This band could not buy a break on the follow up records. Jacob has a solo album too and it did not do well either.

    We have that station in Atlanta too, called “Dave?” and the add Inxs and Police but it’s essentially the same bands you mentioned above

  11. 2000 Man

    I do have to give this station some credit. I’ve heard those Dave and Joe stations and they’re just like listening to someone’s ipod. This station is independently owned, and they have real DJ’s. They play a lot of new stuff, like Florence and the Machine and Dawes, but then they muck it up with Dave Matthews or Lenny Kravitz and I wind up listening to the oldies station.

    Which reminds me, anyone notice the oldies stations have done a decade switch? Much less 60’s, much more 80’s. It’s kind of weird.

  12. You make a good case, j2, especially when you set them aside Hootie and Counting Crows. I found some live performance from the “Starbucks Studio,” or something, with the Wallflowers playing a nice, mellow song with Neko Case and Kelly Hogan on backing vocals. Someone someday might wrestle a really good album out of Jakob Dylan and company.

  13. Yes, it makes me feel like my grandfather!

  14. mockcarr

    Hell, even the news sounds like oldies to me.

  15. Oldies is such a relative term (to me it means Rock Around The Clock to Mony,Mony, although the Hollies’ Long Cool Woman fits in somehow)When I was a kid my bother and I used to imagine how the oldies stations would be when we were older. The Cars, Elton John, Pretenders, Styx. We were pretty close

  16. misterioso

    Interesting topic. I was a fan of the first record–bought out of mere curiosity as a Dylan fan and found myself really liking it. Some of the songs did go on too long but I was impressed at how well they pulled most of them off, and I really enjoyed them in their first iteration live as well, seeing them a few times in Cambridge/Boston in 1993/94. I get the whole lumping in with Counting Crows thing except that Counting Crows were terrible. I liked Bringing Down the Horse quite a bit as well. The good songs are better and catchier than the best songs on the first album, but 2 or 3 songs (Invisible City and the last 2 songs on the album, Angel on My Bike and I Wish I Felt Nothing) are lousy and it is unfortunate to end the record that way. I never saw them live after they got big nor have I heard much of their subsequent records. What I have heard tended to reinforce the idea that I ought to avoid them. I don’t often listen to the first two albums anymore but when I do I still like them.

    The overall problem may be that Jakob has the whole laid-back, weary thing down but unlike with his father’s work (among others) you never get the sense that much is on the line. That is a major limitation.

  17. I remember Jakob going on about the Clash at every opportunity, but I heard no evidence in the music. He hardly ever sang like anything was at stake. Most of their hits put me to sleep, especially given the constant saturation on TV and radio in the mid-’90s.

    Say what you will about Counting Crows, but that guy fucking meant every word, even if to an oft-deleterious effect.

  18. Ah — memories of when mid-tempo rock ruled the airwaves! I recall seeing the Wallflowers at the 9:30 Club in the mid-90s with Sheryl Crow as the opener. I remember thinking that Sheryl had some nice guns on her — and could probably kick Jakob’s butt. I wish I had the money back from that one — dullsville, but I should’ve known better.

  19. mockcarr

    Well, Funoka, to be fair, Sheryl prolly had those good roids that Lance was using. Better to be safe.

  20. mockcarr

    Yep. But the CC music sucked. I mean every bit of my mainstream, bs, craven, rote, market-driven syllable that I sing – is no excuse for not trying to do better.

  21. mockcarr

    Ugh, did i really have “my’ in that sentence? Freudulent.

  22. misterioso

    Undoubtedly closer to 10th Avenue, musically if not geographically.

  23. Late to this party, but The Clash bit would seem to be true as I recall Dylan (Bob, that is) saying in an interview a long long time ago about going to see the Clash with his kid(s). I assume that would be (or include) Jakob.

    I remember thinking it interesting when this album hit that the son had a bigger selling album than his old man ever had (or even came close to).

  24. I recently piked up a used copy of this record. And appreciate it. It’s decent stuff.

    We used to call this a “magic record” when it came out. Me and lost townsman MickAvory met while working at a Cameot Music in an Athens, GA mall. Whenever we played this album (just before it really broke with the hits), someone would always ask who it was a buy a copy.

    Sort of off-topic, but our manager was a fellow named Brent Cash. If you’re a fan of late 60s/early 70s sunshine Beach Boys/Carpenters/Roger Nichols harmony-laced fare, you should check out his recent releases. Just look for Brent Cash.


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