The Waxwings – Shadows of the Waxwings

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I bought this album twice, but I wish I hadn’t had to buy it at all. The first time, I purchased it out of loyalty, and this was the Schnitzel Records release (with alternate cover art). Then, I found the original Bobsled release, and swapped that in for the first copy, even though by that point I knew I didn’t like it. As has already been discussed, I am inexplicably obsessed with the Bobsled album releases. The Waxwings released a third album – which I also bought, and that one was even less impressive than this one. The band came out of Detroit and lasted from 1997 until about 2005. Main songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Dean Fertita joined the Queens of the Stone Age thereafter, and eventually formed the Dead Weather with Alison Mosshart (the Kills) and Jack White. Fertita went to high school with Brendan Benson, and each has played guitar in support of the other on tour. I still find it shocking that the band that created one of my favorite albums ever also made this, possibly the worst album in my collection.

What I Think of This Album

It is unclear what the actual title of this album is – either Shadows of or Shadows of the Waxwings (it’s a Nabokov quote, in any event), and that mystery is emblematic of the greater confusion that infects this effort. The band seems to have completely turned their sound inside out. The chiming guitars are nowhere, and the harmonies are largely absent; also, the songwriting is a shadow of what it used to be. Similarly losing his mojo is Bryan Hanna, whose production on Low to the Ground was outstanding; here, the sound is grey and muddled, and the added flourishes of horns and strings are not well integrated into the mix. There’s no way around the reality that this is a massive disappointment. Even after cutting the band loose from the unrealistic expectations generated by Low to the Ground, there is still no reasonable defense of this album.

The gentle (and nicely titled) “Brilliant Grey” is the best song here – charming and intricate, though the sound has been asphyxiated and the drums are too loud. “Clouded Over” sounds like a pale imitation of the debut’s songs, and it’s one of the stronger tracks here. Closer “What’s Needed Now” is actually not bad, with a swirling atmosphere and intriguing, anomalous harmonica part, though it’s a bit too long for such a plodding tempo. “Look Down Darkly” maybe could have been salvaged with a little more effort, though the last two minutes are pointlessly self-indulgent. The band splits the difference on “Fractured,” which again could have germinated into something cool, but the guitar sound is all wrong (and the drums are mixed way too loud). The bridge of “Wired That Way” holds some promise, but the rest of the song is a turgid affair. Also, “Rifle Through” is just okay – again, taking a steep nosedive towards the end. The thin ballad “Almost All Day” is pummeled lifeless by an obtrusively busy and unreasonably loud drum part. “Blur to Me” is just awful – marred by a bluesy, macho guitar sound that wouldn’t have even made the cut on the second Stone Roses album. The trite psychedelic guitar sound and distorted vocals of “Crystallized” make for possibly the worst sounding song of the batch. Neither good nor bad is “Into Tomorrow,” which would have qualified as only a B side a few years earlier. Jessie Greene is credited with strings, though it is unclear if this is the same Jessy Greene of the Jayhawks and Geraldine Fibbers.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Brilliant Grey” is undoubtedly the only song on here that’s worth a damn.

Release Date

May, 2002

The Cover Art

Even the cover art is a let down. The pinstripes and vintage camera seem like they could have led somewhere interesting, but the framing is all wrong and the monochrome palette doesn’t work. The colors on the font are fine.

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