When considering this album, contradictions abound. I mean, who would've predicted that the former leader of The Dream Syndicate, who is best known for that band's debut album, The Days Of Wine And Roses, released when he was in his early twenties, would release his masterpiece at the ripe old age of 40? I mean, Wynn has had a productive and varied solo career that is well worth checking out, but nothing prepared me and his small but devoted fanbase for THIS. Lastly, grunge was supposed to have died with Kurt Cobain, but many of the best songs here could certainly be labeled that, including hard rocking highlights such as "Sustain" (the best song J. Mascis forgot to write), "Southern California Line" (propelled by its awesome primal beat and great dual guitar interplay), "Death Valley Rain" (one of the best driving songs ever), and "Good And Bad" (an epic Neil Young-ian power ballad with one of Wynn's most emotional and expressive guitar solos ever). In addition to an obvious Neil Young influence, this album delivers '60s psychedelia (perhaps via early '80s psychedelia, as the catchy title track immediately takes us back to the "Paisley Underground" scene), slower ballads built around moody minor chords ("Blackout," "Charity"), and devastatingly fragile ballads ("Morningside Heights" - which gets poppier in parts - and "Drought," which has some prettily plucked Spanish guitar). A song such as "Shades Of Blue" is simply a great rock n' roll song with a surging rhythm and memorable lyrics like "I don't know what happened, what went wrong or if I even care," while "Butterscotch" improbably crosses Lou Reed with Pink Floyd. The messed up blues punk of "Crawling Misanthropic Blues," the loose n' funky "Topanga Canyon Freaks," and "Smash Myself To Bits," which features a spectacular wall of sound, are other songs that can't easily be categorized. Sorry to haphazardly name so many songs in such a seemingly random order, but I wanted to show how wide-ranging and all encompassing this album is. Indeed, I still left out several fine songs, as this is an ambitious 19-track double album that actually warrants its extravagant running time. Wynn can do it all (for example, songs 6 and 7, and 10 and 11 on side one are polar opposites) and he does just that, augmented by a tough backing band (a standard four piece plus lots of well-placed keyboards) and an overall sound that's rough but right. This album was recorded in two weeks in Arizona, and there are quite a few references to the band's surroundings ("Southern California Line," Drought," "Death Valley Rain," "Sunset To The Sea" "Topanga Canyon Freaks"), while broken love is another main theme, with lines like "you've been gone for so long, you weren't easy to find" marking this as a great guitar album you can sing, air guitar, and think along to. Really, when Wynn and company give themselves a hand at the end of the catchy, upbeat "There Will Come A Day" (which concludes the album) I'm tempted to join in, and though there's nothing really groundbreaking or original on the album, this is simply one of the best collections of songs I've heard in some time. Truth is, innovation can be overrated (not surprising a huge fan of AC/DC and Motorhead would say that), great songwriting and performances undervalued, and I'd like to go on record as claiming this album an instant classic that will greatly enrich the lives of the far too few who will hear it.
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