the most vivid things

So ads tell me that Scott Stapp of Creed (or ex- of Creed: I don’t know or care) is going to be performing in town in a week or so. Until I saw those ads, I hadn’t realized that I had been confusing him and his band with Travis Meeks and Days of the New. This distinction among egomaniacal leaders of incredibly crappy bands is probably the most useless piece of information I now know.

Anyway: Creed has a specially carved-out hellish little cell in the most pestilential regions of my heart, because they’re the band that became the golden apple in the eye of whatever their label was called…and thereby doomed the Wrens, formerly on that same label under its earlier incarnation as Grass Records, to several years wandering in the Jersey desert. (My knowledge of New Jersey geographical features is only marginally more keen than my knowledge of crap bands.) Actually, that’s not the real problem: the real problem is that this label also refuses to either rerelease the first few Wrens albums or sell rights to them, having impacted same up their Creed-relishing bungholes.

So here’s a track each from those first two, big-buck eBay-bait albums, Silver and Secaucus, along with a track from the apparently-still-going-to-eventually-be-reissued-with-bonus-tracks EP Abbott 1135 (not on that label). From Silver, here’s an early example of the Wrens’ mastery of texture, “Strange as Family.” While in the context of some of Silver‘s other tracks, which maybe owe a bit too much to bug-eyed Pixies influence, this track is somewhat restrained, it still contrasts those moments of aggression with some real delicacy like the closing piano bit (note Wrens’ typical discord, patent pending).

From Secaucus, here’s the heartbreaking “Won’t Get Too Far.” For me its despondency is enhanced by the guitar parts, which sound to me as if they were recorded several keys higher and correspondingly faster and then tape-slowed for that murky effect. Plus, you can actually understand the lyrics for once: Wrens tend to sing out the sides of their mouths, often sounding as if they’re chewing gum at the same time or something. Half the time, even with lyrics in front of me I can barely make them out. (See “Strange as Family” above: for a gold star, pick out the phrase “johns the greater”…or this entry’s titular phrase.)

I Guess We’re Done” is one of the most famous Wrens songs, even if relatively underheard given Abbott 1135‘s scarcity, since it’s referenced in couple of other lyrics (notably “Boys, You Won’t”). Somewhere someone is probably writing a dissertation on the “conceptual continuity” (to borrow Zappa’s phrase) in Wrens songs – I’ll note only that the bridge mentioned in this song’s lyrics (“shots of Dad’s bridge still on the fridge”) is presumably the same bridge whose presence forms the central metaphor of “Won’t Get Too Far.” Some day I should sit down and figure out all the chords to this one (I’ll need a lot of paper) – in particular, the modulation from the opening into the first verse is a thing of wonder. Overall the song feels like a ’50s ballad turned sideways: phrases extend a little longer than you’d expect, wander through neighboring chords like those interesting shortcuts you might take that aren’t really shortcuts but are more interesting than the direct route…and then there’s that bridge (not the one on the fridge) which, aptly, sounds as if flown in from another song entirely until it, too, slithers through a serpentine modulation back to the main chord sequence. Plus…tubular bells!

The Wrens “Strange as Family”
The Wrens “Won’t Get Too Far”
The Wrens “I Guess We’re Done”

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “the most vivid things

  1. Alan

    You want Synchronicity? I was checking out your Last.fm list and noticed you’d been playing Secaucus, which led me to play the same and rhapsodize about seeing the Wrens on my birthday last year.

  2. Alan

    I meant to add that I did this yesterday, before seeing your post, otherwise this story is even more pointless than most of my anecdotes.

  3. Anonymous

    OK, you’re the only one who would know this: is there a name for the musical device (?) of using a repeated melodic phrase (or guitar riff) across a series of chord changes? The Wrens do this on the Meadowlands song “Hopeless”, and the Replacements did it on “Can’t Hardly Wait”. So what do you call it?
    — jonhope

  4. 2fs

    Jon – I’m probably not the only one who’d know this (hell, I’m not sure I’m among those who know it), but I think the term “ostinato” fits the bill. This provides a definition.

  5. Anonymous

    What I meant was that you are the only person who would know both of the songs and the musical term I was searching for. Thanks! By the way, I don’t know if you take requests, but I was looking at your Last FM playlists and wondering if you could write something some time about the Lilys. I’ve never heard their music, but the name keeps popping up and I’m thinking that I’ve missed out on something good. — jonhope

  6. Anonymous

    Hi Jeff–
    Strangely, just came across this post a year after the fact. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for attending back in Jan 06, and for writing this. It was a pretty great night for us…thanks for doing your part to memorialize it!

    Mike (B) S.

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