Review Summary: I was wrong.
The longer we wait for The Meadowlands
’ follow up (by my count, fifteen freakin’ years), the more I find it amazing we have The Meadowlands
at all. And thank God for it. As I and the record age, the both of us continue to find a common ground on an emotional level. Finding an emotional connection isn’t exactly easy for me anymore, mind you, I’m not the easiest person to match pace with emotionally in—well. Any. Way. Whatsoever, let alone in my listening habits, and to have one that has lasted so long at that. I swing, to be frank, like a lot, like in my moods, my depressions and my oppressions, and many might say I should be medicated for it. Surprise: already was. And surprise: Pills don’t fix the issue, not at all, except that’s not a surprise to many, as many sufferers already know. But alcohol helps, of course, or at least I find my head easier to reside in when I have it. Whenever the mood is right (ha!), The Meadowlands
is always welcome to join me in there: We share a drink or two, or maybe eight.
The thesis statement of the LP is slightly obscured further into the latter half of the record at the end of “Ex-Girl Collection”: Under the spoken words of some unknown speaker amidst what sounds like a heated speech, you hear Charles Bissell choke out, “I was wrong.” The words are a brief lyrical reprise of second proper track “Happy,” a beast of a song in its own right, but the words being placed here as a callback to that song isn’t for the sake of the record’s cohesiveness or frame; rather, it highlights the lament of the bookends of The Meadowlands
: “The House That Guilt Built” and “This Is Not What You Had Planned”, respectively. And that’s vital to understanding the dirt that The Meadowlands
resides in, but also paramount in being able to see the beauty of that dirt melody-fied to the truly sublime.
Experiencing the calamitous unforeseen, or human disappointment at being wrong, such is the topic surrounding The Meadowlands
and much of The Wren’s career up to that point in 2003, really. “The House That Guilt Built” placates you into its environment, drummer Jerry MacDonald’s words of, “and I’m nowhere near where I’d dreamed I’d be. I can’t believe what life’s done to me,” serve as the band’s plea—or rather, confession. For a record that took upwards four or five years to make, due to the creative minds double-questioning everything, and re-recording everything, over and over again, this is how they start the fu
cking record. It’s like—fu
ck it, let’s let the drummer sing. This shi
t is going to be thrown, and this shi
t is going to stick. Or it won’t: That’s the mindset. You live in a house with two other smelly, rapidly aging dudes for years in Secaucus, New Jersey to work on one sole project, the one project you have left of your band and your creative energies, so what else could you really say about it？I can’t believe what’s happening more or less fits the bill, so let’s just go with it.
Then from the build of “Happy” you get “She Sends Kisses”. If you’re listening (and reading), things have changed. I don’t want to undersell the prior—that song’s attention and praise is for another article titled ‘The Best Break-Up Song of All Time’—but the latter is the precipice of The Meadowlands
. It’s the
hook. “She Sends Kisses” sells the record. Half-baked lyrics that make little sense but when played together give the song a distinct succulent identity. Like "Happy", it builds and evolves, Bissell and Greg Whelan's acoustic and electric guitars intersecting and moving as one, but only barely so, fighting for room in the song's domain next to the dominance of Bissell's shaking, sad-boy vocal performance. When Bissell and Kevin Whelan sing throughout The Meadowlands
, lyrics tend to drown under the melodies. In this song it happens much less in comparison to later cuts like "Faster Gun", "Per Second Second", or extensively in the outro to last epic “13 Months in 6 Minutes”, but even in the bridge it's hard to make out exactly what's being sloshed from his mouth; by that point, emotion has overtaken and reduced him to incoherence.
Bissell and Kevin Whelan's drunk, sad (or sometimes angry) slurring fits the aura of The Meadowlands
, though, and the rambling most likely reflects them at that time of their lives. You could easily fall in love with this record and not even know what half the songs are going on about (relationship woes/band life sucks, basically), but that's okay because The Wrens convey the meaning—or at the very least, what they're feeling—through their inorganically organic melodies and driving indie rock instrumentals. Following that love letter, the next two times the band slows down are in the one-two punch of "Thirteen Grand" and "Boys, You Won't". Bissell would later tell Stereogum that the prior was arguably the easiest track to make for the record. And you can almost hear that ease of purpose and unity in the way the song sounds; the track flows so effortlessly and makes for a calm reprieve to contrast the murky surroundings, like a flower blooming in a swamp.
But then there's "Boys, You Won't": A shrill siren starts the avalanche of vindictive mid-thirties angst, a chorus coming forth from which that stands destined to be belted at every ex, or at yourself in the mirror because you're afraid of life. Whatever: ”You want me. You want me.”
You can hear the frustration and conflict within the song, the band remarking themselves that it was possibly the hardest song to tape out since everything had to be rebuilt over and over. Nothing sounded right, nothing fit together, and still something’s off about the final version when you listen to it. The turbulence gives it its identity, though; the turbulence mirrors the emotions, so in that way the imperfection perfects it. “She Sends Kisses” may be the golden child of the family, but “Boys, You Won’t” is the prodigal son’s high school senior portrait: dressed up depravity.
It all ends where it all began on outro “This Is Not What You Had Planned.” Atonal and completely raptured from subtly, the song lets the vocalist howl, literally howl, at the close of the naked, bare piano piece. An emotional catharsis, you could say, or the song’s simply giving up the album’s spirit, the last track correlates and meets the thesis “I was wrong” from “Happy” and “Ex-Girl Collection” on equal footing and creates the portrait of the midlife crises and the emotions that come from it unbidden in the most human-est of humans. You’re inspired to look back and reflect on The Meadowlands
and, if The Wrens have hooked you enough throughout, your own life as well. I’ve been here a lot; it’s my issue, my reality—part of depression is the circular mental-lapping involved therein. The album’s message doesn’t change and offers no solution, which The Wrens never promised they would offer to begin with; nothing gets better when you suffer like this: The Dirt, only the tinged minds know. Come to The Meadowlands
as you are already in it, then, for fu
cked up albums that shouldn’t work yet stubbornly do, on this kind of level anyway, come few and far in between, probably once every fifteen years, at least by my count. Bring a drink or two with you, or maybe eight. I’ll be sure to meet you there because, after all, misery loves company.