Seeing Things ( Columbia/Starbucks Entertainment, 2008 )
Unslushed because: I’ve been writing about a lot of indie folk rock lately. I wanted to hear how a big-name, major-label equivalent measured up. Surely Rick Rubin’s prominently billed production will bring something new to the table.
Factors not initially considered: Nobody panic: The Wallflowers have not broken up. This is just a mostly acoustic side project from leader and principal songwriter Dylan as the band takes a little break. And if you made it through this paragraph without falling asleep, you have more fortitude than I do. I took a nap between the second and third sentences.
Upon further review: When I was about four, there was one nursery-school classmate who had no personality but really cool toys. Our mothers would arrange a play date and I’d go over to his big house, where we’d each ride our own Big Wheel in the long driveway and eat cupcakes at snack time. But the entire enterprise was still a chore because the kid was just so damned boring. That, I’m afraid, is Seeing Things.
Appropriately, Rick Rubin’s squeaky-clean engineering is not as regal-sounding as his famous work with Johnny Cash, but you know he used the fanciest microphones money could buy; the folksy instrumentation is elegantly restrained, leaving plenty of space for Dylan, whose voice sounds a little like Tom Petty’s here, to show through. The problem is that Dylan’s lyrics show through, too—and there isn’t much to them. Among stilted yarns about tending the crops (“My forefathers, they worked this land/And I was schooled in the tyranny of nature’s plans,” in “Will It Grow”) and taking to the battlefield (“I Told You I Couldn’t Stop”), Dylan reflects on a world gone (kind of) wrong (“Evil Is Alive and Well”) with limited resonance and awkward green-eggs-and-ham couplets. Sometimes his bad rhymes seem downright obstinate: In “Valley of the Low Sun,” why does it have to be, “I know soldiers are not paid to think/But something is making us sick”? Sink would’ve been just as good as sick, right?
Well, no, not really. In the garage, next to the Big Wheels, there might have been a state-of-the-art turd-polishing machine, too, but while that poor kid was standing around for 45 minutes to see what came out of it, I was down at the end of his long driveway, waiting for my mom to take me home.