Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Wrens - The Meadowlands

Release Date: September 9, 2003

★★★★★ Tracks:


This Boy is Exhausted

Every Year You Wasted

Boys You Won't Remember

I'll never get tired of a good break-up song. Fortunately the relationship I am currently in is still going strong. I'm not sure how she puts up with me, but no doubt I owe a lot to my experiences in the one other serious relationship I had, of which ended awfully. I'm sure most are familiar with the one I'm referring to: a relationship that everyone else but yourself and the person you are with can see will only end in complete misery. Still, it was my first love, and there was something good that came out of the whole mess. I passed that universal challenge everyone goes through at least once, and made it out the other side (after a few months of sulking and binge drinking, of course). It was like a right of passage in to adulthood -- an emotional badge of honor I could carry throughout the rest of my life.

Now I'm at the point where those feelings of hopelessness have completely diminished, and after not experiencing something so tumultuous as my first heartbreak in many, many years, I find myself occasionally even missing those newly acquired emotions. I became much more creative, buried myself in my studies, and most importantly, I finally truly understood all those great break-up albums for the first time. Blood On the Tracks turned out to be amazing, Beck's Sea Change was almost too heartbreaking to play all the way through, but I got it. Yes, perhaps it's just an immature (and most assuredly emo) romanticism of a completely unromantic situation, but I can't be the only one to think this way. No way every break-up record that's ever been sold could've gone to some poor bastard who just got dumped (right?...). And that's one of the thing that's so universally great about the break-up song: those of us going through one have someone to commiserate with, and those of us that have cleared that major hurdle life throws at us can look back and reminisce.

And that brings me to one of my favorite break-up songs of all time, "Happy" by the Wrens. The lyrics aren't earth-shattering, and by American Idol standards the singer doesn't have the strongest of voices, but this song is powerful: the instrumentation slowly building from beginning to end, the vocals sung with more and more emotion as each verse passes, until everything crescendos in to a poppy finale, possibly signifying the singer's success in getting over his heartache (or so he contends in his lyrics):

One of the other things I love about the Wrens is that they have more than one singer, giving us multiple perspectives on a single album. As I've gotten older, I've increasingly identified with the vocalist from "This Boy is Exhausted." A song about growing up and not being where you pictured you'd be as a kid, I think many a disgruntled nine-to-fiver can relate. Sure I went to college, and I can type, but a cushy desk job isn't where I dreamed I'd be (although I shouldn't complain too much since a lot of this post was typed at that very desk). It's always been my dream to write and record music, and at least the Wrens are doing that.

"Lock me in.
Tied to work.
Splitting rock
Cutting diamonds.
100 days.
With no pay.
Not anymore.
Cause I'm caught.
I can't type.
I can't temp.
I'm way past college.
No ways out.
No back doors.
Not anymore.
But then once a while.
We'll play a show.
Then it makes it worthwhile.
Our sights set low.
As Jerry squares off the set here we go.
But... this boy is exhausted."

The Meadowlands isn't the happiest of records. These guys have gotten older and jaded, and it's clearly displayed here on the record. For those of you who never like to experience occasional feelings of melancholia, this record is most likely not for you. And while most of my favorite tracks are the moodier slow jams, the Wrens lighten the mood with a few fun poppy tracks like "Faster Gun," "Shot Rock-Splitter to God" and "Nervous and Not Me." As for the music, if you don't mind nasally voices and production on a budget, you aren't going to find much better power-pop than what the Wrens offer here on The Meadowlands. There are some great arrangements, great use of dueling guitars, and great percussion, which sometimes falls to the wayside in pop bands like this. Provided by drummer, Jerry MacDonald, one of my favorite tracks, "Boys You Won't Remember," is a perfect example of his contribution to the band, with the drums single-handedly (or I guess doubly-handed would be the better term) sonically amplifying the song through each verse, giving the track its slow-building momentum.

Released in 2003, Meadowlands was largely recorded and produced in 1999, but due to label problems, it didn't make it's way to the public until four years later, minus the newly problematic "internet leaks" bands are now continually plagued with. However the four year delay only added to the anticipation, and they did not disappoint. Meadowlands is considered their best by most fans and critics alike, topping many lists of the year and decade by a few popular publications. As we know from the lyrics, these guys have day jobs, and they're probably closing in on their 40's, but I hope they find the time to come across the river and play another show soon, word is they put on quite the live performance.

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