The Wrens – The Meadowlands

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

This is another one of those delightful mysteries of my collection. I know next to nothing about this band, have never run across either of their other two albums, couldn’t quote a single lyric  (though the lyrics are printed in the sleeve) or even a song title, and have no clue who the band members are. I did know that they are a New Jersey band and another of their albums has an equally Garden State-centric title, Secaucus, and that this was their last album. But that’s okay, and possibly more than okay, because I just love this album for the way it sounds. I don’t need to know more or even really want to know more – I did a bit of research for this and I worry that the more I learn, the less magic there will be. Maybe that’s dumb. Or maybe that’s art.

What I Think of This Album

The liner notes reveal a deep, irreconcilable division in the band’s approach to transparency. On the one hand, there is little here to grasp on to. The band members adopt aliases, and there is no information about which instruments any of them plays. Needless to say, there are no photographs of hijinks in the recording studio or even a basic portrait. What does seem relevant is that the album took four years to record (and recording did not start until three years after the release of Secaucus). On the other, the reprinted lyrics lay bare a candid and unflinching picture of someone’s – or more than one person’s – turbulent, troubled life and how they feel about it.

Right off the bat (well, after a few seconds of field recording), we get “And I’m nowhere near / What I dreamed I’d be / I can’t believe / What life has done to me” on “The House That Guilt Built.” Later, there is the self-flagellating story involving Beth on “She Sends Kisses,” and Beth reappears on infidelity tale “Ex-Girl Collection.” And as if to flesh out the disappointment of the opener, “Everyone Chooses Sides” adds “Thirteen grand / A year in the Meadowlands / Bored and rural poor, Lord, at 35, right?”

Nestled close to the beginning of the album is “This Boy Is Exhausted,” which hints at the ordeal of making the album while also showing an appreciation of what they have:  “This boy is exhausted / Eight years long / A single song / Come to this / Triple guessing / AVP’s faith is one single long / ‘Cause I can’t write/ What I know / It’s not worth writing / I can’t tell / A hit from hell one sing-along” but then finding redemption when “Greg plugs in” and “Kev jumps in / And hits the floor as the stick hits the rim.”

Nonetheless, there is still some sleight of hand at work. The lyrics are not reprinted in their entirety, with some songs represented by just one line and others omitting entire chunks of lyrics. Also, some of the song titles on the lyric sheet are inexplicably different from the titles on the back (e.g. “She Send Kisses” v. “She Sends Kisses” and “Everyone Choose Sides” v. “Everyone Chooses Sides”).

With all that as context, the songs sound amazing. The lyrics and the melodies don’t really seem to match up in a natural way (I have a hard time imagining singing along even with the aid of the notes or perfect recall) but the vocals sound great and what comes through in every song – what unifies the album – is the overwhelming sense of urgency. The band sounds energized by their defeat, desperately thrashing against the waves pulling them under. So while “Everyone Chooses” has a plinking piano and hard-charging rhythms, it sits comfortably alongside the accordion-driven “Kisses,” or the synthesized horns of “This Boy.” Meanwhile,  the arpeggiated “Happy” eventually transforms into a hypnotic chord progression, and a Thin Lizzy type riff drives “Hopeless.”

Synthesizers and a bouncy fuzz bass power “Faster Gun.” An acoustic guitar and synthesized strings take center stage on downcast lullaby “Thirteen Grand,” and a stuttering guitar (?) slices its way through the bitterness of “Boys, You Won’t,” with some more accordion. “Ex-Girl Collection” is deceptively delicate for large stretches, and the quiet, hazy, fuzzy autopsy of “13 Months in 6 Minutes” is simply astonishing. And whoever sings exposes everything while (drunkenly?) singing along to his own piano playing on the shocking, intimate “This Is Not What You Had Planned.” This album – regardless of how difficult it was to make – is a remarkable achievement.

The Best Thing About This Album

The vocal performance on this album is stunning.

Release Date

September, 2003

The Cover Art

So I approve of the font and the sepia tones, as well as the placement of the artist name and album title. The image works, even as I can’t say I like it.

One thought on “The Wrens – The Meadowlands

Add yours

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑