[3 September 2002]
No one knows when, why, or even how it happened, but rock music has silently slipped into cult status in the last couple of years. It may be that because rock was split into so many other smaller and segregated subgenres (rap/rock, nu metal, heavy music, punk pop), all of which appealed more to the teenybopper set than the source material, good old-fashioned rock music became simply old-fashioned. Leave it to the marketing departments to kill rock music, only to turn around and trumpet its revival when the genres that supposedly supplanted rock music as the flavor of the week have themselves become stale. There is a reason they call it ‘product’, after all.
Birmingham, Alabama’s Wayne isn’t really part of some rock revival like, say, the Strokes or the White Stripes supposedly are, but they may benefit from its renewed cool factor just the same. Their new album, Music on Plastic, is a well crafted slice of Americana that plays like the US response to Witness UK’s 2001 album, Under a Sun. To label them as Americana, though, would be selling them short.
Sure, the label applies to songs like the opener “Slow Down”, on which singer Rodney Reaves pulls off a lower-key impression of Adam Duritz, however unintentional. “If You Leave” (no, not a cover of the OMD song) is also distinctly American, with a lovely chorus filled with echoing jangly guitars. “Whisper”, however, is a different beast altogether, with Reaves uncannily channeling XTC’s Andy Partridge both vocally and melodically on the sticky-as-Velcro chorus.
There is an odd whiff of nostalgia that runs through Music on Plastic. It actually sounds like the album was recorded in a different time than the present. This is not a comment on the production but rather the vibe and overall sound of the band. Even the look of this band is decidedly not 2002. Their haircuts are most unfashionable, and their clothes seem to be borrowed from Social Distortion. Do these kinds of bands even exist anymore?
Of course they do. They’re all over the “mix” stations and they have names like Five For Fighting or some other sports or pop culture reference. They don’t have half the writing chops Wayne possesses, but they do have big money payola behind them to get them the maximum radio saturation that guys like TVT, frankly, just can’t afford. That scent of nostalgia, therefore, is not coming completely from the album but rather from this reviewer, because he knows that there was a time when this album would have been a hit. Like, say, 1995. Had this album seen the light of day in 1995, when earnest but no-nonsense bands like Hootie and the Blowfish, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Big Head Todd and the Monsters could still sell records, Music on Plastic would have been massive. (The previous statement was in no way, shape or form an endorsement of Hootie and the Blowfish, but rather simple social commentary) In fact, “Take Me Home” and “Head Up” sound like they could have been from Toad the Wet Sprocket’s 1994 album Dulcinea. The former’s faux-bluegrass feel makes it a perfect sister song to Toad’s “Nanci”, while the latter is a rewrite of “Something’s Always Wrong”.
The album’s shining moment is actually hidden after the simmering closer, “Drop D”. After a 30-second pause, Wayne reveals a version of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” that is somehow faithful to both the band and Elton John. In fact, their earthy approach to the song highlights the lyric about the small time farm boy leaving the glamorous life behind to go back to his roots.
Music on Plastic won’t change the world, or inspire a hundred people to start their own bands, but as competent Americana albums go, this is better than most.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/wayne-music/