It doesn't matter what number Wallflowers album this is. You fickle kids can't keep a band on the pop charts longer than you can resist popping a zit -- it seems every follow-up to a debut success is doomed to suffer the dreaded sophomore jinx. And that goes for you older cynics, too, so enamored of Blonde on Blonde outtakes that you're ready to dismiss this as a case of a fortunate son, Jakob Dylan, stealing the old man's bundle, another Secret Value of Daydreaming. In doing so, you're forgetting that Valotte was just Lennon lite, but Bringing Down the Horse actually delivered the goods without having to forge Daddy Zimmerman's signature. Besides, there were more nods to the Boss than Bob, like that "Independence Day" swipe on "One Headlight" and that hop, skip and jump from "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" into "Sixth Avenue Heartache."
Songwise, the Wallflowers don't veer too wildly from last album's modality; considering the fair-weather fans they must rely on to stay in the game, that's astute navigation. Lucky for them radio has already embraced the single "Sleepwalker" and hasn't put the previous album's hits back into heavy rotation like it did with the Counting Crows. With a title like Breach, Jake and the boys mean to cement relations and consolidate their last success with small but significant steps.
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Remember how Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' brand of rock seemed almost conservative compared to any number of English New Wave imports of the late '70s and early '80s? Eventually, Petty's consistent years of crafting solid, not showy, hits finally put him into the pantheon of classic rock gods. This album is full of similar tortoise-versus-the-hare victories like "I've Been Delivered," with its insistent circular keyboard swirls, and "Hand Me Down," with its tasty Full Moon Fever-esque slide guitar. In fact, with a guest appearance by Mike Campbell, Breach sounds like Full Moon Fever might've if somebody had the sense to lock Jeff Lynne in a broom closet.
Andrew Slater and Michael Penn do the production honors, ensuring this outing is brimming with Hammond B3 hooks, vibes, antiquated Mellotrons and plain ol' acoustic guitar. Add to that Jakob's expressive voice, which carries an indisputable authority on the spooky "Letters From the Wasteland" and the anthemic "Some Flowers Bloom Dead." The band members aren't slouches, either, playing with a dependability you'll grow to appreciate with time. The lyrics also have that nice throwaway quality of Petty after he hooked up with Bob Dylan -- words that sound like they weren't sweated over but somehow sound wiser than everybody else's. Eventually, you find yourself even singing dicey lines like "The days before I met you girl/Were just like ice cream falling on the shoes of my world."
When coupled with guest voice Elvis Costello on the rare Wallflowers rocker "Murder 101," Jakob's husk and Costello's nasal wheeze combine to form an exact sonic replica for Petty -- good enough to open the voice-activated gates on his mansion should they care to try.
Petty once said of Costello, "He's all right, but I couldn't call him Elvis." It may be a while before you can call the Wallflowers' leader Dylan and have people know who you're talking about. But by then, he'll likely have notched too many hits to even care.