Delayed Reaction: The Wallflowers Debut

I’m a big fan of all things Dylan. That includes both Bob and his son, Jakob. I got into the latter’s band, the Wallflowers, like pretty much every single other person in the world: the songs “6th Avenue Heartache” and “One Headlight” off their second album, the excellent Bringing Down the Horse. But then, unlike most people, I went ahead and stuck with them, picking up every album since then and even their debut, the self-title The Wallflowers.

When I first encountered the record, I wasn’t particularly impressed with it. it seemed too unfocused, too sloppy, too meandering to really have much of an impact on me. You could actually almost hear Jakob Dylan making an effort to say, “See? I’m not my dad, I’m my own man making my own music!” There are conscious stabs at making deep statements (“Hollywood” and “Somebody Else’s Money,” mostly), but mostly it’s just Dylan and his band trying to craft convincing American rock and roll.

Looking back at it now, I can see that they actually managed to succeed a little, despite the lack of critical praise or much public interest. As my brother mentioned when I was discussing the album with him yesterday, there are songs where you can hear the members of the band straining to play to the best of their ability, moments when they’re clearly just balls-to-the-wall tearing into a song and playing it as hard and as affectingly as possible. And those are some damn good moments, as it turns out: “Sugarfoot” remains the best song on the album, as far as I’m concerned. I was convinced of it the first time I heard the record, and I remain convinced to this day. But other tracks, such as “Sidewalk Annie,” “Ashes to Ashes,” and “After the Blackbird Sings,” are all just as strong. Jakbob Dylan may have still needed some polish on his lyrics and delivery, but the emotion was definitely there and the underlying structures were usually pretty solid.

Admittedly, some of the songs do run a bit long (looking at you again, “Hollywood” and “Somebody Else’s Money”), and some of them are rather repetitive (I love “Asleep at the Wheel,” but it gets old after about three minutes and then decides to run for another minute forty-eight after that), while others are just downright boring (“Honeybee” and “Be Your Own Girl”). But honestly, as albums go, it’s more killer than filler. Of the twelve songs on the album, I really only want to skip over four, and that’s better than a lot of debuts go.

Ultimately, The Wallflowers is a flawed but promising start. It’s interesting to think that, after this album tanked commercially, Dylan and his organist, Jaffe, ditched the rest of the group and got a new drummer, guitarist, and bass player for Wallflowers 2.0. This new incarnation, of course, went on to record Bringing Down the Horse, and the rest is history, as it were. But there’s still a part of me that wonders where the band could have gone if that first album had been more of a success…