Singer/guitarist/songwriter Steve Wynn has spent the better part of the last 25 years as an active participant in the music business, but a casual observer would be excused for thinking, upon mention of his name: “oh, that Las Vegas guy”. Because, unfortunately, that quarter-century of experience in bands like the Dream Syndicate — whose 1982 debut The Days of Wine and Roses has been cited as a major influence by scores of artily inclined pop bands — and Gutterball, as well as a prolific solo career, hasn’t exactly translated into major label record deals and sold-out arena tours. Yet to hear him on record and see him in concert, one gets the impression that he might not have it any other way — for Wynn carries the essence of someone who thoroughly enjoys what he does and is happy to simply have the opportunity to do it.
As a bandleader, Wynn never left behind the marriage of noisy, Velvet Underground-inspired rock and psychedelic jangle that was so essential to the Dream Syndicate’s sound, but it wasn’t until settling on the Miracle 3 (Linda Pitmon, drums; Jason Victor, guitar; Dave DeCastro, bass) as a backing band that he began to re-approach the glorious heights of his first and most highly acclaimed group. Even so, 2001’s Here Come the Miracles and 2003’s Static Transmission, while containing their fair share of bright moments, rarely captured the energy and spontaneity of the Miracle 3’s live performances. Whether it’s due to a conscious decision on Wynn’s part or simply the natural result of a band that’s now been playing together for over five years is open to conjecture, but whatever the impetus, …Tick …Tick …Tick is the record that pulls it all together.
Indeed, …Tick …Tick …Tick is a very different animal from the outset, opening with the two-minute dissonant blast of “Wired”, complete with Wynn’s distorted vocals — a radical change in tactics from the mellow “What Comes After” that commenced Static Transmission. Overall, Wynn and his bandmates offer a far more definite focus on rock n’ roll, as on the Bo Diddley-esque stomp of “Killing Me”, or the aptly titled “Wild Mercury”, which balances an unhinged verse with a melodic chorus for a shrewd inversion of traditional song dynamics. Even more conventional songs like “Bruises” are honed with a rougher edge on this release, whereas in the past Wynn tended to keep a bit of distance between his pop songs and more aggressive moments.
Wynn has always seemed well aware of his limitations as a lyricist, forging a comfortable space in rugged simplicities well-suited to his strong melodies and noisy pop chord progressions. However, here he expands his talent pool a bit by enlisting bandmate Pitmon as co-lyricist on two tracks, as well as his crime novelist comrade George Pelecanos on “Cindy, It Was Always You”. Pitmon proves a worthy partner on “The Deep End”, incidentally the first ballad-paced song at five tracks into the program; with lines like “It’s more than sink or swim, / I’d rather not go in”, she works within Wynn’s comfort zone of clever platitudes to retain a focused sense of style. On his own, Wynn still tosses out a couple of clunkers like “Freak Star”, but those moments are more than reconciled by tracks like the epic “No Tomorrow”.
As the album’s parting shot, “No Tomorrow” functions as a two-part nod both to Wynn’s past — in the seemingly autobiographical lyrics and Dream Syndicate-esque chords of the first part — and present, due to its powerfully anthemic conclusion. The two sections are connected by a textbook example of Wynn and Jason Victor’s empathetic relationship as guitarists, which is nothing short of enthralling throughout …Tick …Tick …Tick, just as it has been on the two previous studio recordings with the Miracle 3. Matched with Wynn’s feedback-driven squalls, Victor’s ability to use his effects with such control and taste (the best comparison is perhaps a less avant-garde Nels Cline) ensures that the band rarely has trouble reaching ecstatic heights on demand.
How Wynn has kept a band this talented together for so long is an elusive prospect; it may very well have a lot to do with Pitmon, Victor, and DeCastro sharing in Wynn’s ostensible indifference to the business end of music outlined earlier. But rather than speculate over the inner workings of the Miracle 3’s near-perfect chemistry, it’s best to let the music speak for itself. …Tick …Tick …Tick is an early contender for one of the strongest rock records of 2006 — and even though it won’t get enough exposure to register on year-end lists in 11 months, that’s still no reason to ignore it now.