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The Perks of Being a Wallflowers Fan

The Wallflowers
The Wallflowers
James Minchin

See also: No Seriously, Chumbawamba Has a Storied Anarchist Past See also: Our Throwback Thursday Archives

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present The Wallflowers: The Only Band That Matters.

Just kidding, but the Clash vibes from the band's new tune, "Reboot the Mission," are clearly intentional. It's a tribute, featuring a Joe Strummer shoutout and vocal and guitar contributions from Mick Jones.

Most importantly, it's not half bad. It's the first single from the band's forthcoming record, Glad All Over, set for release on Tuesday, October 2.

I'm not entirely sold on the Combat Rock-feel, but I can't help but smile a little at the idea of a new record from The Wallflowers. We've examined plenty of the aspects of nostalgia around here, wondering if we should be ashamed of it or indulge it wholeheartedly. I guess this falls into the latter category.

I liked the Wallflowers, specifically their 1996 album Bringing Down the Horse before I had any idea what "cool" was. I was the oldest kid in the family unit, so anything I knew about about rock 'n' roll or popular culture was gleaned from my mom and dad, both more inclined toward Boston or Pat Travers than Desire or Nashville Skyline. I didn't know -- or care, really -- who Bob Dylan was, but I was positive about how much I liked "Bleeders" and "The Only Difference."

It's hard not to imagine how daunting it all must have been for Jakob Dylan. Like Ravi Coltrane, who's featured in this week's issue, he faced not just the expectations that come from being his father's son, but also from sort of doing the same thing his dad did. It's the same challenge every literate dude with a guitar faces, only the pressure's significantly turned up when such hefty lineage is taken into account.

No one is going to argue that Jakob is the voice of a generation -- and even his old man bristled at the idea he was that -- but The Wallflowers were a good band. Bringing Down the Horse is a solid pop-rock record, with a couple of gems that have stood the test of time even better than the ubiquitous "One Headlight."

"Three Marlenas," with its sideways strings and woozy organ, is a classic road anthem ("One where I could pull that top down/just let my radio play"), and the pedal-steel weeping "I Wish I Felt Nothing" could have worked its way onto Wilco records from the same era. The records other single, the Adam Durtiz-assisted "6th Avenue Heartache" features the same rootsy swagger that has earned Counting Crows a somewhat wistful critical re-evaluation in recent years.   When I listened to that cassette -- and it served as a soundtrack on a family road-trip, so believe me, I did a lot of listening -- I just knew I liked it. One day I'd come to realize that a lot of it is the production, courtesy of the great T. Bone Burnett at the helm. Later I'd discover his incredible back catalog (solo records, and the mystic Christian blues of The Alpha Band), come to appreciate his role in Old Man Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue, and fall deeply in love with other records he produced, like Elvis Costello's King of America and Los Lobos' How Will the Wolf Survive. There's a warmth to the guitars, the vocals are nestled in the sound, not overbearing, and the drums -- while not entirely immune to '90s production techniques -- don't sound utterly ridiculous.

I didn't keep up much will Dylan and Co. They followed up Horse with a couple more records, Breach, Red Letter Days, and Rebel Sweetheart. Dylan released a couple of pretty good solo records, the Rick Rubin-produced Seeing Things, and an even better one with T. Bone Burnett called Women and Country (though it's hard to sound bad when you have Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, Jon Rauhouse, and Marc Ribot behind you).

I don't know that that the new record will restore them to their chart-topping glory, or win over the Strummer crowd outright, but it's hard not to root for them. For a few minutes in 1996, before I discovered Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, or David Bowie, The Wallflowers were the only band that mattered. To me at least, and I can't help but feel like they didn't point me in the right direction.

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