"Rebel, Sweetheart” shows a lack of musical maturity
It must be unfortunate for a band to know that its prime was in 1996, but until now The Wallflowers have done well in the shadow of their alternative-rock hits, "One Headlight" and "6th Avenue Heartache." While they have failed to reach that level of acclaim again, The Wallflowers have always released good, if sometimes formulaic music. Their latest release, "Rebel, Sweetheart," continues this trend, including nothing new musically, resulting in a bland record, which excels lyrically, but fails instrumentally.
After their 1996 release "Bring Down The Horse," The Wallflowers released the more traditional rock oriented "Breach" in 2000, and pop filled "Red Letter Days" in 2002. "Sweetheart" seems to be stuck somewhere in between all of the bands releases; some of the songs have a definite folk sound, while others lean towards rock n' roll, while still others go back to the band's country/rock roots. Lead singer Jakob Dylan seems to have stalled musically, running out of paths to go down, and instead he tries to bring everything together in one album, falling short along the way.
This album is the perfect representation of all that has ever been The Wallflowers as Dylan struggles to outshine not only his past, but his famous father as well. Dylan fails to pass either, as he is rarely able to mix his excellent song writing with original and interesting musical accompaniment. In the song "God Says Nothing Back," Dylan highlights this trend through his bleak, but poignant writing "Seems like the world's gone underground/Where no gods or heroes dare go down/As teardrops from a hole in heaven come/ Overhead like raves dropping down like bombs," which is met with a guitar part so simple and quite, that the song falls completely flat. It seems as if Dylan is trying to resurrect Nick Drake, but instead of capturing the floating plucking of Drake, he only catches the depression and silence.
On the CD, Dylan still shows the flashes of brilliance that garnered him so much praise in the mid-90's. The two songs "The Beautiful Side of Somewhere" and "We're Already There," rise above the others because of their clear sound, which compliments Dylan's writing instead of detracting from it. Dylan is able to layer the guitars with piano, making a sound reminiscent of his early albums, while still showing his lyrical maturity. The songs also seem to have a purpose; instead of wavering like "God Says Nothing Back," or over-extending like "From The Bottom Of My Heart," they have a clear beat to carry the song from beginning to end.
On other songs Dylan lacks this direction, playing traditional rock power chords, but trying to sing dark lyrics much faster and lighter than he should. Dylan often mismatches his lyrics to the point where they would gain more meaning if read straight from the CD cover.
Still, Dylan should be given credit for what he has produced: a straightforward rock album, a rarity in today's electronic rock obsessed culture. The Wallflowers deal with what they have, often creating pleasing music without the use of excessive synthesizers or long-winded guitar solos. Unfortunately, The Wallflowers are not able to pull all of their skills together on this album, producing an imbalanced album that falls far below the high standards set with their earlier releases.
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