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).