Wednesday, August 13, 2003


When I was a child, I had a lot of expectations for when I got older. I wanted to one day drive a Chevy Celebrity station wagon. I thought I would inevitably be a fireman, a police man, or more realistically, a super hero. I also expected to be super, filthy, freakin', monsterously rich. Apparently, as you can see (I don't have a car, I'm a writer, and...well, no comment) not everything worked out as planned. But I distinctly recall that when I reached the point of junior high, I began taking rock music more seriously and childish pursuits less so. And as I listened to a cassette in my room, lying on the floor, dreaming about Phoebe Cates, I also wondered what it would be like to be friends with a rock star and whether I would ever have that luxury or not.

Well, last night I conducted a drunken, sloppy, yet highly entertaining interview with three gentlemen who are rock stars. And coincidentally, between you and me, they also happen to be friends.


The Wrens are one of the most important bands that you don't know.

A pretty heavy statement to make, indeed. A statement that almost puts my reputation on the line. I mean, let's say you happen to pick up their latest triumph, "the Meadowlands," and you listen to it and think, hmmm, this is cool but why the fuss...then all I have to say is--and I refrain from ever saying this condescending proverbial slap in your standards' face--you don't get it.

Before I bite and chew into your perceptions of good and bad and, more or less, shake the world on which you stand on (wow! such drama!), I'll give you a background of the Wrens. But first let me to introduce you to Ben Greenman of the New Yorker:

"In 1996...a New Jersey foursome named the Wrens released their second album, "Secacus. Though label problems left the album in limbo, it was hailed by the diskerati as a great lost masterpiece. Seven years later, the Wrens, still together have delivered "the Meadowlands" to the faithful, but not only to the faithful--this time it's clear that the band means to make a bigger splash."

Well said, Ben. Thanks for dropping by. Please keep in touch.

"Secaucus," the album that Ben refers to as a masterpiece is actually just that (which is why I quoted him--he said it before me). When you grow up in the suburbs and all you have is a plethora of 7-11's, an album like this means so much to the occupier of the teenage bedroom of angst. It rocks out, it rocks in, it pops like Pop Rocks (sweet like that too), it harmonizes, it romanticizes. It slings longing and desperation at full speed, it aims to hurt, heal, apologize and then wreck the room. In fact, everyone I know and respect in the music industry works their tails off to gain credibility so they can bring bands like this up with them. It sure as hell is an inspiration for me. As far as I'm concerned, I'm not resting until one of these guys is dating Winona Ryder.

And the record that may make that possible, "the Meadowlands," which occupied almost seven years of effort, actually sounds like it took seven years to make. The intricacies, the spastic undertones of subtle guitars, the desire to burst forth from the plastic of the manufactured CD and to exist within the vibrant colors of the world around us.

You with me?
Ok, now inhale. Good. Exhale.
Here we go...

The album opens with the quiet sounds of the street in an anonymous town, the chirps of crickets, the passing-by of cars and the reflections of their headlights as they haunt the facades of broken homes. "It's been so long since you heard from me," the drummer, Jerry MacDonell croons. "... And I'm nowhere near where I dreamed I'd be/ I can't believe what life's done to me." A sentiment that pierces a confident exterior and reveals the insecurities of everyone everywhere. Then "the Meadowlands" brilliantly segues into "Happy" with Sett, the lead singer revealing, "I was wrong to waste it all/I can't figure it out what happened to us...I'll be alright/ Don't worry about me...I wanted you but I'm over that now." The simplicity of the lyrics and the earnestness almost feels voyeuristic. Should I be listening to someone confessing this sort of thing, one wonders, even if it is available for public consumption?

"This Boy Is Exhausted," one of the best tunes on the album, is a story of a desperate band lashing out at a clueless A&R rep with a major label (true story: they wrote this song to play for a clueless A&R rep at a major label. He never picked up on it, even as he blasted it in his office with the band sitting across from him). But what makes this song so potent is that it's told from the perspective of the rep. "I can't write/what I know is not worth knowing/ I can't tell a hit from hell...this boy is exhausted."

Throughout all these songs, Charles "Mexico," the lead guitarist of the band, is more of a painter than a musician. His licks are so sensual and attractive that they could almost hang from a wall. It's so much more three-dimensional than the usual short-comings of most indie-rock guitarists.This is most apparent in the latter half of "16 Months in 6 Minutes," a gentle song that almost offers a shoulder to place one's head on. But these musical expressions are only the case because the other guitarist, brother Whelan G.E., is Mexico's ideal partner (not socially, but in the band). He is the essential backbone to Charles' body.

All these previously stated components of the album are bits and pieces that make a completely wonderful output. It's a record that needs the time to grow with and adore, just as it took time to make. "The Meadowlands" is a special treasure that certainly everyone will gain from if only they went back to their suburban bedrooms, realized the angst and struggles of regular people. If they escaped into the hidden rooms of self-consciousness and honesty. The potency of realness. No shtick. Almost naked, reflecting in the mirror of our celebratory-yet-disastrous lives. Only then will they get it.

And to think I'm friends with these guys.


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