The Drama You've Been Craving

When the fans think about Dylan, they mean Jakob. It's only the critics who can't get their minds off Bob.
Jakob on the cover of the new album, (Breach).
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Monday Oct. 23, 2000

Taking The Wallflowers On Their Own Terms

It's time to stop talking about Bob and just listen to Jakob's songs.

By Michael Goldberg

The sons and daughters of rock stars are fated to have their work measured against that of their famous parent(s). Throughout their careers, Julian Lennon, the late Jeff Buckley and Sean Lennon have had to fend off journalists more interested in their fathers (and in the case of Sean, his mother too) than in their music.

Then there's Jakob Dylan, son of an icon, son of the greatest and most important rock songwriter, Bob Dylan.

If Jakob were not Bob and Sara's boy, I bet critics wouldn't even have called him "the new Dylan," a name they've bestowed over the years on John Prine, Bruce Springsteen, Graham Parker, Steve Forbert, Elvis Costello, and others. Jakob's music and his voice don't sound like Bob Dylan — at times, he sounds more like Springsteen.

If Jakob were not a Dylan, the Wallflowers' recordings would be judged against their contemporaries, compared to the Counting Crows, Cracker, Wilco and possibly Everclear.

But Bob Dylan? No way. His hardcore fans may still attend his live concerts and buy his periodic albums, but the modern rock and pop audience — the fans who buy CDs by some of those younger bands, and the fans of Korn or Eminem, Christina or Madonna, Radiohead or the Offspring, Green Day or Rage — just don't think about Bob Dylan.

If not for Jakob's last name, the Wallflowers' new album, (Breach), would be considered on its own terms and compared to their previous hit CD, Bringing Down the Horse.

On Its Own Terms

When the fans — six million of whom bought Bringing Down the Horse — think about Dylan, they mean Jakob. It's only the critics who can't get their minds off Bob.

Taken on its own terms, (Breach) is deep and soulful, a rock album with a bit of folk and a bit of No Depression-style country here and there. It's a great album.

(Breach) is a better album than Bringing Down the Horse:The singing is better; the writing is better; the playing and the arrangements are better. The co-production team — the group's manager Andrew Slater (who also manages Fiona Apple and Macy Gray, and produced Tidal and On How Life Is) and solo artist Michael Penn, a master of Beatlesque pop — was an inspired choice.

Listen to an elegant, baroque ballad such as "Witness," which is, in part, about growing up and coming to terms with who you are — and who you're not. Give it half a chance and it will slay you. "Another year, another candle's burning," Jakob Dylan sings. "For the party girl/ No one even knows you're there."

Or let the amazing album opener, "Letter from the Wasteland" (in the year 2000, referencing T.S. Eliot in a pop song is very cool), wash over you. Great line: "It may take two to tango/ But boy, just one to let go."

Draggin' the River

I have, of course, been reading the Jakob Dylan interviews that have been running this past month. They say he's let his guard down and is writing more about himself ("Jakob goes deep into his lineage and the expectations that come with it...," writes David Fricke in a Rolling Stone cover story) and what it was like being the son of Bob.

What you've got are rock-critic types and baby-boomer editors still obsessed with Bob Dylan, eager to get more info on Jakob's enigmatic father. So when they get Jakob to sit for an interview, they ask about his dad. Or they search the lyrics for clues.

Which is beside the point, and has to be frustrating for Jakob. I've interviewed a lot of songwriters over the years, and many of them flat-out don't want to talk about the inspiration for their songs. They want you to get things from the songs that relate to your life, not think of the specific situation that they wrote about. They want their songs to resonate in a bigger way through the world.

Anyone who's been in a serious relationship that ended badly can relate to a line like "As if it wasn't hard enough/ Just as my conscience/ Starts to clear/ I drag the river and you're still there... ." What if you knew the girl Jakob wrote that line about? Better that you don't.

In the Game

The New Amsterdams, Never You Mind (Vagrant): In 1992 I got a beautiful folk-rock album, a CD called Can You Fly (Bar None) by a guy named Freedy Johnston. Never You Mind, by the New Amsterdams, led by Mathew Pryor of The Get Up Kids, could be the true follow-up to Can You Fly. Many of the songs are sparse, acoustic guitar-driven, with Pryor's raspy sweet voice demanding that you pay attention. Check out the album opener, "Every Double Life," and the chill-out ballad "Idaho."

Sarah Cracknell, Kelly's Locker (Instinct): This solo album from St. Etienne's singer mixes up Burt Bacharach/Hal David-style pop songs, such as the touching opener "Judy, Don't You Worry" and "Home (Armchair Mix)," with modern electro dance workouts such as "How Far" and "Taking Off for France." "Penthouse Girl, Basement Boy" is a perfect disco genre piece and includes the classic line "I'm living in the penthouse, basement boy stay away."

Michael Goldberg is the Editor in Chief of ARTISTdirect.

(c) 2000 Michael Goldberg. All rights reserved.