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Rebel, Sweetheart

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Album Review

The Wallflowers, particularly their leader, Jakob Dylan, can't catch a break. They're not only bound to be compared — not entirely fairly but certainly understandably — to Jakob's father, Bob, but an equally large burden is that they're a straight-ahead rock band in a time that doesn't value straight-ahead rock bands. They were able to ride the post-alternative wave to the top of the charts in the mid-'90s, when all guitar bands were lumped into a nebulous alt-rock scene, but just a few years later, in the aftermath of trip-hop, MTV Amp, and OK Computer, all big rock bands were expected to tackle the serious challenge of electronica, since that was the wave of the future and all. Didn't matter if they were groups as singularly unequipped to fuse loops and guitars as R.E.M. or Oasis — they all made tentative attempts to reconcile classicist rock with futurist electronica. Not the Wallflowers. They stuck to their guns and made driving, songwriter-oriented rock & roll in the vein of Springsteen, Tom Petty, and John Mellencamp. This stubbornness served their music well, but it won them no new fans, either among critics or the general public, who criticized them for being what they are: a working rock band, pure and simple. On each record, they have variations on their signature sound, given a slightly different spin depending on what producers they work with, but that's what most rock bands, good or bad, do — they make records and go on tour. This happened more in the '70s and '80s than in the '90s and 2000s, when dwindling audiences and corporatization kept bands off the road and out of the studio for long stretches of time, but the Wallflowers remain a rock band in the traditional sense, mining a similar vein on Rebel, Sweetheart, their fifth album, as they did on their first. While there are no musical surprises here, this is a better album than its predecessor, Red Letter Days, not just because it's a stronger, more varied set of songs, but because they finally have a perfectly matched producer in Brendan O'Brien. Like his recent productions for Bruce Springsteen, O'Brien helps focus and revitalize the Wallflowers, opening up the music through subtly textured overdubs but also giving the band a harder attack than they've ever had. Simply put, they've never sounded better as a band than they do here, and they've never had a record as robust and interesting on a pure sonic level as they do here. Not that Rebel, Sweetheart offers anything all that different from previous Wallflowers albums — they just do what they do better than they have before. Ultimately, there's a certain comfort in knowing that the Wallflowers can deliver sturdy, engaging classicist rock like this, since it makes them different from other rock bands of their time in yet another way: they're reliable.

Customer Reviews

a tough act to follow

If you like the Wallflowers this album will quickly rise to the top of your favorites list. If you are new to the Wallflowers then there isn't a better place to start. If I had to pick only one song from this album I think I would go with Nearly Beloved, but don't sell yourself short. This album is a crowning achievement on a great list of stellar records by a band that refuses to bend to the will of time as many dime-a-dozen bands currently do.

The Wallflowers continue to evolve.

There is a lushness to The Wallflowers that continues to grow and evolve with each progressing album. The self-titled debut had great songwriting but lacked production (which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your view). "Bringing Down the Horse" was undeniably my favorite album prior to this release, with "Red Letter Days" very close behind. Who can forget the initial impact of hearing "One Headlight" or "6th Avenue Heartache?" I am now faced with the difficult situation of re-evaluating that preference. Clearly, Jakob's vocals have improved vastly, and the beautiful instrumentation on "Rebel, Sweetheart" is more than welcome amidst the flood of post-punk-retro-revival-electro-dance-pop that is forced down our throats. Thank you, Wallflowers, for continuing to make great American rock music.

the legacy

Wallflowers continue to impress and stay solid. some rockin tracks, From the Bottom of My Heart and God Says Nothing Back are must-own tracks for any Wallflowers fan.


Formed: 1990 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

As part of the mid-'90s revival of roots-rock, the Wallflowers held a special connection to one of the original inspirations: vocalist/songwriter/guitarist Jakob Dylan. Though he is the son of a legend, Jakob's similarities to his father are occasional -- in fact, the Wallflowers are more influenced by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers than original '60s folk-rock, though lyrically, Jakob remains a close companion to the original Dylan. Born in 1970, Jakob Dylan was raised in Los Angeles by his mother,...
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Top Albums and Songs by The Wallflowers

Rebel, Sweetheart, The Wallflowers
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