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The Wallflowers - Exit Wounds (Album Review)

Wednesday, 21 July 2021 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Yasmin Than

Whether celebrated or resisted, craved or feared, wilful or enforced, the untameable beast that is change affects almost every aspect of our human experience on a near daily basis.  Providing more than enough fuel for The Wallflowers’ long overdue return, ‘Exit Wounds’ finds Jakob Dylan ruminating on all things transition over the band’s most sparkling Americana effort to date.

Given that The Wallflowers’ line-up is an ever-changing entity, with singer, songwriter and son of you-know-who Dylan the one constant, and each of their records boasts a different sonic identity, evolution feels like an appropriate theme for this particular band. 

From querying whether his fire still burns inside and how we move forwards after suffering repeated blows, to being stuck in a directionless rut and surviving the earth-shaking impact of others’ decisions, no stone is left unturned on a thought provoking, but ultimately optimistic, outing that producer Butch Walker has brought to life in typically intuitive fashion.

Whereas some Wallflowers albums found Dylan battling to be heard above his band’s wall of sound, Walker has allowed the singer’s increasingly rich, smoky rasp and poetic wordplay to breathe over a fittingly spacious canvas of shimmering instrumentation that’s as eloquent and picturesque as it is warm and comforting.

Although less raucous than past offerings, ‘Exit Wounds’ isn’t a sparse affair. There’s plenty of piano, organ, guitar and pedal steel, but they’ve been empathetically arranged by someone who knows songs such as Maybe Your Heart’s Not In It No More and the Tom Waits-vibed The Dive Bar In My Heart don’t need to burn on gasoline so much as percolate patiently over a low-lit flame.

In tandem with Walker who, along with his trusted studio musicians, became an honorary Wallflower for this record, Dylan has mined a rich vein of country, southern gospel, rock ‘n’ roll and blues to sculpt these 10 tracks, nodding to Springsteen, Tom Petty, Counting Crows and R.E.M in the process.   

Scorned roots-rocker Roots and Wings is delivered with a deceptively radio-friendly sheen, Darlin’ Hold On, a tear-jerking duet with Shelby Lynne, could be Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush crooning Don’t Give Up after hours in a saloon and I Hear The Ocean (When I Wanna Hear Trains) dishes up pastoral, shuffling country-rock as Dylan aches for a better way to live.

Although many of these cuts favour subtle melodiousness over anthemic immediacy, there are exceptions. Move The River unleashes a rousing gospel-powered refrain, the dramatic musical changes that add texture to I’ll Let You Down (But Will Not Give You Up) gift its soulful payoff an unexpectedly redemptive grandeur, and Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden, which smashes together ‘Sticky Fingers’-era Rolling Stones with peak ‘80s John Mellencamp, provides pure kinetic rock n’ roll swagger. 

The Wallflowers’ seventh record is the musical equivalent of cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway and gazing out at the ocean as you make peace with your present and thoughtfully plot a brighter future. ‘Exit Wounds’ may be the album's title, but after listening to it all your troubles will swiftly disappear in the rearview mirror.


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