Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Dream Syndicate's Days of Wine and Roses (CD Review)by Steven Porter

Days of Wine and Roses – The Dream Syndicate
by Steven Porter

Dream Syndicate sounded like a band living on the edge in 1982. So it’s apt that this album was named after a movie starring Jack Lemmon about an alcoholic whose life was in chaos. At times, it’s almost like a bootleg recording with plenty of haunting feedback, grinding guitars and thrashing riffs. There’s a tendency for songs to start off quietly and build up towards a desperate finale.

The Dream Syndicate quickly progressed from the college stages of LA to vinyl. You get the impression that they just wanted to get in the studio and belt out their songs without worrying about the finer points of production. The result is very refreshing in these times when so many indie guitar bands are given a consumer-friendly makeover in the studio.

The Velvet Underground is an obvious influence. Steve Wynn’s deep vibrating vocals and angst-ridden lyrics, laced with doubt, are in the Lou Reed mould, while Kendra Smith’s vocal on Too Little, Too Late is positively Nicoesque.

But it helps that this album was made before everyone was trying to sound like the New York outfit and Dream Syndicate had too much fire in their bellies to come across as clones anyway. They were lumped in with the “Paisley Underground” scene in early eighties California, along with the likes of The Rain Parade and The Bangles. Although these bands may have been coming at music from a similar angle they all sound quite different from each other. The Dream Syndicate has more in common with Hollywood and Ruby Records stable mates, The Gun Club. Take for instance the swamp blues of Definitely Clean and the title track. Nick Cave in his wilder days also springs to mind.

Then She Remembers might be the consequence of putting Creedence through a punk mixer. Despite the influence and effect on aforementioned American bands, Dream Syndicate also remind me a little of contemporaries on the other side of the pond. The jangly edge on Until Lately almost wanders into Postcard territory. The C86 bands in the UK must have cocked an ear to this, but the hard edge ensures Dream Syndicate will never be accused of being coy or twee.

If the TV Personalities recorded a version of Halloween, few would twig that it wasn’t one of their own numbers. All that’s missing is Dan Tracey’s Cockney accent – and the fact the TVP’s are even less preoccupied with glossy production and the perfect take. Heaven knows what would happen if they got hold of one of the Dream Syndicates’ powerful amps. But it doesn’t sound as if the American outfit had much time for celebrity on the track: “Don’t believe the things you see on TV coz they’ll never happen to you.”

Days of Wine and Roses is not for the faint-hearted as the lyrics show. “When you smile I don’t know what to do/Coz I could lose everything in a minute or two/And it seems like the end of the road/When you smile.” And on the title track: “Everybody says I don’t care/ No I don’t care/ I’m just trying to remember the Days of Wine and Roses/The word is she’s outside on the ledge/Drawing a crowd and threatening everything/I’m out here wondering where I fit in.”

This is existential angst with impending doom round lurking round every corner. Life is fleeting but these are days to remember. Who knows what was going on in Steve Wynn’s head but he came through and long outlasted other dread merchants of the time like Ian Curtis and Jeffery Lee Pierce. Velvet, Paisley or whatever, this album goes deep down and takes a welding torch to the soul. Take a listen to Days of Wine and Roses and realize just how bland and tame most of today’s so-called alternative guitar bands really are.

Author bio:

Steve Porter is a Spanish-based writer currently finishing off his third book, "Countries of the World". More about this fictional memoir based on his Scottish childhood here: The Iberian Horseshoe – A Journey can be downloaded from Shellfish & Umbrellas (poetry) is available from Koo Press. See Steven J Porter for more info, excerpts from his latest book and links to other writing.

1 comment:

The Long Afternoon said...

The Days of Wine and Roses is an absolutely fantastic album; when we were starting out in the early 1980s it was an inspiration, and Karl Precoda remains one of my favorite guitar players ever. Thanks for the great article. People who like the Dream Syndicate may also like our band - their influence on our music is pretty apparent.