The Wrens
The Meadowlands


5.0
classic

Review

by Jared P. STAFF
April 19th, 2019 | 73 replies


Release Date: 2003 | Tracklist

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 fucking record. It’s like—fuck it, let’s let the drummer sing. This shit is going to be thrown, and this shit 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 fucked 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.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
dimsim3478
April 19th 2019


8419 Comments


where tha new album tho. mastering doesnt take five years.

Digging: w.o.d. - 1994

Observer
Staff Reviewer
April 19th 2019


7034 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I'm afraid they might die before we hear it.

Digging: Reuben - In Nothing We Trust

theBoneyKing
April 19th 2019


17174 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Decent album

Digging: Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 19th 2019


42375 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

terrific review. why spend all our energy waiting for the new album when we have this one, and writeups like this for it? all I need personally

Pheromone
April 19th 2019


7256 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Really nice write-up man. I don’t know how i’d fare in trying to put into words what this album means to me, and how it does so, so good job for that. I’d probably discuss how it’s through the hooks, which at first seem passive, that you get continuously redrawn to this album. And after that everything uncovers and the rest shines. I feel that when I tell people (at least those I know in person) that this is my favourite album, they often listen and can’t understand why. But the fact that this is so consistently adored by a few on sput is testament for how perfect this is. So, yeah I probably couldn’t ever put into words why this is perfect, but it is. Mental pos

The only two post-meadowlands songs I’ve heard from these guys are still as top-tier as you’d expect from the band.

Digging: Chore - Another Plebeian

Observer
Staff Reviewer
April 19th 2019


7034 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks friends. And pheromone yeah, I follow you. There are influences of other bands here but just barely. I’ve never found another album that sounds like this nor roots itself slowly at first and then WAM, or at least in the way this album does. Definitely an odd grower. I’ve never recommended this to someone irl because I always assumed they’d hate it and not give it its time.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 19th 2019


42375 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

The only two post-meadowlands songs I’ve heard from these guys are still as top-tier as you’d expect from the band.




their cover of the best R.E.M. song (Nightswimming) is just breathtakingly good

Scoot
April 19th 2019


19489 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

there’s something special about this album



it’s almost mournful but in a “well, fuck it” kind of way if that makes any sense

Gyromania
April 19th 2019


28321 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Rowan - but Laughing is their best song! I mean Nightswiming is a close second.



Great review Jared!

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 19th 2019


42375 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

I gotta reevaluate Laughing sometime I guess, it was never a top 20 for me but it seems like it's universally adored by everyone else lol

luci
April 19th 2019


11669 Comments


excellent review, captures how enraptured a person can get with this. everything i could want in an indie rock album, we are blessed even if there is no follow-up.

Observer
Staff Reviewer
April 19th 2019


7034 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

cheers. your bump on that news article scared the shit out of me lol



I tried something different here and glad it came out alright. I haven't heard the post meadowlands tracks in a while so props for reminding me to do so rowan and matt

Pheromone
April 19th 2019


7256 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Three types of reading anxiety is everything I want from the next album

Slex
Contributing Reviewer
April 19th 2019


8001 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

There are no words for how much I love this album



Absolutely love this review too Jared

Digging: Blood Cultures - Oh Uncertainty! A Universe Despairs

SowingSeason
Moderator
April 20th 2019


32091 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

downright incredible review, maybe the best I've ever read from you

made me want to revisit this

in fact I'll do it now; that 4 is looking kind of sparse

Digging: Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell

Observer
Staff Reviewer
April 20th 2019


7034 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

very kind words guys. Been really trying to study and improve, but still have a lot of work to do. Reviews a bit TMI and OT, but this album just inspires honesty from myself and extravagant descriptions given its relative uniqueness.

SowingSeason
Moderator
April 20th 2019


32091 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I love this style of review personally. I did revisit this and found myself enjoying it a little more than I remembered, especially the first half. Might bump to a 4.5 which I wouldn't have done if it weren't for this write up.

Observer
Staff Reviewer
April 20th 2019


7034 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Well im glad, mission accomplished. when i first fell in love with this back in 2010, the second half took more time to grow as it featured more harder to understand tracks, the vocals being lost like i mentioned much more so in that half, but the melodies do hook you eventually though. "Everyone Chooses Sides" has a riff that's really great that I didnt mention. and then 13 months.. yeah i fucking love this thing.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 20th 2019


42375 Comments

Album Rating: 4.6

still strongly feel Not So Pretty Now deserved a place on here but, pet peeve I guess

Observer
Staff Reviewer
April 20th 2019


7034 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Think nightswimming is my fav of the post released



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