Review Summary: Amazing and Overlooked4 of 4 thought this review was well writtenThe Wallflowers
returned with “Breach” four years after the release of the multi-platinum album “Bringing Down the Horse”. Headed by the smash hit “One Headlight”, “Bringing Down the Horse” made The Wallflowers
famous, but too many tracks on its second half felt like borderline filler. “Breach” was exactly what The Wallflowers
needed. On “Breach” The Wallflowers
expanded on the powerful, classical rock style of “Bringing Down the Horse”, offering 11 (counting “Baby Bird”, hidden in “Birdcage”) highly diverse, eloquently written songs.
Unfortunately, the public had moved on, preferring the modern sounds of groups like Coldplay and Radiohead. Whether or not The Wallflowers
’ decision to play folksy, strong, straightforward rock music was wise financially is obvious; Breach met with disappointing sales, and the group’s two subsequent albums were all but completely ignored. But what some may see as stubbornness I see as passionate dedication; you get the feeling on “Breach” that the quintet is relaxed and confident as they perform the brilliant, drum-heavy “Murder 101” or the slow and sweet “Birdcage”. “Breach” is The Wallflowers
at their absolute best, using intricate, brilliant lyrics (just listen to “I’ve Been Delivered”) and equally complex and successful instrumental lines (the guitar melody in “Hand Me Down”).
As an album, “Breach” is more difficult to appreciate than “Bringing Down the Horse”, and it took me a couple listens to even notice a lot of nuances and hidden meanings of the songs. “Multilayered” wouldn’t begin to describe “I’ve Been Delivered”. The lyrics imply a reluctance to conform. Dylan sings “I once heard that you’ve gotta learn how to blend in to this mess” before jumping into one of the many metaphors scattered about this midtempo piece. The figurative language is elaborate, similes exist within metaphors. At one point, Dylan is in the deep sea, waving to the exploding shore like “a little boy up on a pony”. The confusion of the narrator is made clear through quotable lines like “I’d rather bleed out a long stream from feeling lonely/And feel blessed/Well than drown/Laying face down/In a puddle of respect” and “You know/I’d even learn to cut my throat/If I thought I could fit in”. I’m not sure what Jakob Dylan is saying hear, but then again, nobody really understands “One Headlight”. I can just tell that The Wallflowers
put those four years to good use.
made a brave choice on “Breach” by slowing down the pace in the second half. Of the first six songs, four are notably fast-paced, and of the last five, only one. The midtempo “I’ve Been Delivered” is placed right after three guitar-heavy opening tracks, and “Witness” serves as the album’s first real break. The song takes its time characterizing the second-person subject as a forgettable nobody, and it’s performed with a truly unique combination of light drumming and backup vocals. The “you” in this song bears great resemblance to the “you” of “Hand Me Down”, in which Dylan successfully tackles the inevitable demand for him to write about his relationship with his father. Purely on its own, “Hand Me Down” is one of The Wallflowers
very best, but the description of Jakob’s personal feelings is so well-conceived that the song occupies the same level as classics like “One Headlight”. Dylan is perfectly supported by phenomenal guitar lines and drumming, and the final verse “So look at you with your worn-out shoes/Living proof evolution’s through/We’re stuck with you/This revolution’s doomed” manages to evoke a serious sense of failure and gloom without forcing those emotions onto the reader: the delivery is so dead-on, and the instrumentation so perfect, that “Hand Me Down” instead feels crisp and satisfying.
From the opening guitar strum, “Sleepwalker” is loud, fast, and involving. Focusing on the group’s reaction to their newfound fame, the song, like “Hand Me Down”, is metaphorical and brilliant in its own right. The lyrics, as on the rest of the album, are a sheer joy to hear, such as Dylan’s plea not to be taken as a “whore” for cashing in on his father’s success.
The first six songs form a suite of their own, opening with a “One Headlight”-like rock song “Letters from the Wasteland”. Dylan is at his lyrical best hear, crying out against “Incarcerated, lovesick fools” in a “Smoke-filled waiting room”. The song is deeply metaphorical and builds to a knock-out instrumental section at the end. It’s nearly as good as “One Headlight”. Closing the sextet is “Some Flowers Just Bloom Dead”, where the downbeat lyrics are countered by group’s lively performance. The key line “Some flowers they never bloom/Some flowers just bloom dead”, backed by a myriad of guitar riffs, creates excitement while still leaving a feeling of hopelessness.
The slower songs, like much of the album, grow on you more and more over time. The blunt sadness and clap-like rhythm of “Mourning Train” turned me off at first, but now it’s one of my favorites, even from an album as splendid as “Breach”. Dylan makes an unusual showcase of his vocal range when he drops his voice from the stern, lamenting tone of the beginning to sing a beautiful section in the middle “Mama look at me now/Oh how I wish/You were around/So many friends I wish/I had right now”. Here The Wallflowers
are much more downbeat than on any other album, and the result is mesmerizing and haunting.
“Up from Under” comes up next, and it’s the only real weak spot. Dylan uses a nostalgic tone with lines like “Everyone is so kind/everyone looks like a long-lost friend of mine”, but the song never really amounts to much. An acoustic guitar part prevents most of the song from being a complete vocal solo, and the album’s only use of strings in the latter make it even more gentle and pretty. It’s a reasonable piece of work that adds to the album but doesn’t really stand out on its own.
“Murder 101”, a fast, loud rock piece, represents a dramatic break from the repetitive structure of many tracks on “Bringing Down the Horse”, milking the short 2:31 length for all it’s worth. The song is simply alive, filled with energetic riffs and ending with a neat chorus.
“Birdcage” and the hidden track “Baby Bird” work brilliantly together; the two songs are just different enough to feel like distinctive pieces and similar enough to create a nearly eight-minute ending to the album that feels cohesive. The slower pace gives the listener tie to reflect on what came before. “Breach” utilizes a shorter album running time that “Bringing Down the Horse” quite well, and the slow two-part ending comes at just the right time. “Baby Bird”, in particular, shines nicely as the group creates yet another new, innovative atmosphere, this time sounding like a child’s music box. Dylan gently sings away the song, and the album with “Baby Bird/Come back home/Now Baby Bird/You were never really on your own”. It’s a beautiful conclusion to an amazing piece of work.
“Breach” remains, to me, one of rock’s underappreciated albums. It’s a showcase of The Wallflower’s artistic talent and ambition. They would never again record an album as a full quintet, and “Breach” is inarguably the group’s greatest accomplishment.