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Worth exploring

The Wallflowers - Rebel, Sweetheart
(Interscope Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 1, 2005
The Wallflowers

Review by Andy Argyrakis

Like many pop/rock bands who found fame in the post grunge mid-90s, The Wallflowers came out of the starting blocks with sprinter's speed and then slowly trailed off as the 2000s took over. Sure, the group's sophomore album Bringing Down the Horse spawned a string of memorable singles like "The Difference," "6th Avenue Heartache" and "One Headlight," but each subsequent effort seemed to identify less with the radio and music consuming public. The 2000 offering Breach came nowhere near the blockbuster before and was lackluster in comparison, while 2003's Red Letter Days was also met with dwindling fanfare. As a result of that meteoric rise and continuous downward slide, Rebel, Sweetheart could very well be the band's make or break album.
Though previous indications would've probably pointed towards a ship sinking even further, the Jakob Dylan led operation offers a welcome surprise. Not only does the disc hearken back to its glory days, but it could very well pack enough punches to pack an out all revival for the band. The album opens with the jumpy jangle rock and roller "Days of Wonder," a textbook Wallflowers hit hinging on scruffy vocals, chunky guitars and mandolin accompaniment. It's met with fellow fun in the sun jams like "Back to California" and the southern tipped "Nearly Beloved," both reminiscent of the band's organic early days.
The more sparse arrangements throughout "We're Already There" (about feeling trapped in time) and its follow-up "God Says Nothing Back" (a moving test of faith) fare well in highlighting Dylan's stellar songwriting. Consider the singer's legendary family tree, it's easy to see why, though the disc's increase use of metaphor and irony establishes the offspring on his own. Take for instance the outwardly hopeful "All Things New Again," which traces themes of recommitment and rejuvenation despite living in complex circumstances. "The Beautiful Side of Somewhere" falls along similar lines, pitting optimism against what Dylan refers to as "life's inherent difficulties." Between those vulnerable expressions and the vibrant sonic outpourings, The Wallflowers' latest is worth exploring, especially for those who'd long given up that a satisfying follow-up to Horse was possible.

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