"I got some John Coltrane on the stereo baby, make it feel all right. I got some fine wine in the freezer mama, I know what you like."
The Dream Syndicate's debut LP, The Days of Wine and Roses, is justly considered to be one of the best neo-psych albums released during the eighties, a dark, feedback-drenched love letter to The Velvet Underground and Television that quickly catapulted the band into the forefront of the emerging L.A. Paisley Underground scene only nine short months after they had come together in Davis, CA. As lead vocalist and guitarist Steve Wynn recalls, "It was an overnight thing. There was no dues paying. It was very weird and it screwed us up in some ways." One negative consequence of producing a masterpiece their first time out is that the band's later work has tended to languish in the long shadow of their formidable precursor. In the aftermath of their early brush with success, change settled in on The Dream Syndicate. First, their bassist and sometime vocalist Kendra Smith left to join boyfriend and ex-Rain Parade guitarist David Roback to work on his Rainy Day project (she was replaced by former Al Green bassist David Provost). In addition, the band was signed by a major label, A&M Records, and thereafter quickly set to work, with former Blue Oyster Cult, Dictators, and Clash producer Sandy Pearlman, on what would become their most divisive and misunderstood record, Medicine Show. This album has tended to garner charges of being a major label sellout, and while it is certainly more polished than the band's debut (which is to be expected), it is anything but a play for mainstream success (unlike fellow Paisley Underground figureheads The Bangles). Rather, Medicine Show captures a young band finding their way as mature songwriters. Steve Wynn: "I'd written a lot of songs before Wine and Roses, but the storytelling, the larger scale, taking a frozen moment in time- it all started on this record." The band was also dealing with their meteoric rise from feeling fortunate if they got third billing at the L.A.-area clubs they were playing to suddenly being the headliner: "Defiance, fear, apprehension- they were all happening to us by then, and a lot of that came out on the record. It's in the songs, in the sound." By all reports, Pearlman drove the band hard, insisting on take after take until the performances reached a raw state of emotional honesty, an approach that served Wynn's dark, sometimes violent lyrical content well. The album's terrific opener, "Still Holding on to You," which has a faintly similar vibe to the debut album's "Tell Me When It's Over," sets the tone for the entire album with its tale of inconsolable loss and emotional desperation. While the band is still conjuring the ghosts of The Velvets here, there is a new-found confidence and a more open sound that lends the song a rootsy feel reminiscent of Neil Young. Medicine Show concludes with two epics: "John Coltrane Stereo Blues" and the stunning "Merrittville," which Wynn has described as "the Book of Job in eight minutes." The latter sounds something like The Church jamming with Crazy Horse, and is a heady reminder of just how misunderstood and criminally underrated this album is. Steve Wynn: "Karl [Precoda] wanted to make a big, panoramic rock record to justify our move to a major label and the plethora of attention we had received in the mere nine months that had passed since the release of The Days of Wine and Roses. I wanted to make a 'beautiful loser,' button-pushing, over-the-top emotional catharsis in the tradition of most of my all-time favorite records (i.e. Big Star 3rd, Tonight's the Night, Plastic Ono Band, etc.). We both got our way- and in ways that neither of us could have predicted. I think it was this improbable collision of desires and personality that gives Medicine Show its character."
(Water ~ 2010/1984 ~ Remastered & Expanded Edition)
1. Still Holding on to You (3:41)
2. Daddy's Girl (3:04)
3. Burn (5:35)
4. Armed with an Empty Gun (3:58)
5. Bullet with My Name on It (6:23)
6. The Medicine Show (6:31)
7. John Coltrane Stereo Blues (8:49)
8. Merrittville (7:27)
-This Is Not the New Dream Syndicate Album!
9. Tell Me When It's Over (Live at the Aragon, Chicago, IL, July 7, 1984) (5:18)
10. Bullet with My Name on It (Live at the Aragon, Chicago, IL, July 7, 1984) (6:02)
11. Armed with an Empty Gun (Live at the Aragon, Chicago, IL, July 7, 1984) (4:21)
12. The Medicine Show (Live at the Aragon, Chicago, IL, July 7, 1984) (7:09)
13. John Coltrane Stereo Blues (Live at the Aragon, Chicago, IL, July 7, 1984) (9:03)