The scene: a run down old theater still clinging on to dear life in the middle of a run-down industrialized city filled with the homeless, the drug-addled, and the barely scarping by. On the beat up marquee, now quickly rotting away, its lights all blown out save for one or two cracked bulbs, are the words Chris Vrenna is Tweaker! The smoke-drenched clouds cover up the already hazy sun. Someone gets mugged in the theater's parking lot. And life boils on in this unnamed, depressed town reeking of staleness and suffering.
Oh well. That's the feeling I get when listening to Tweaker's 2 A.M. Wakeup Call. It's just so abysmally bleak and rote that pulling oneself through the listening experience of it inspires sheer literary sadness. So it goes. Chris Vrenna, for those not attuned to anything Nine Inch Nails related, was of that band at one point, and has also done some production and remix work. It should come as no surprise that Vrenna's own music work is on the dark side. But while Trent Reznor is always childishly angsty and whiny, Vrenna doesn't opt to go in that same direction. His dark pop sounds more approachable, if nonetheless as excruciatingly mundane as Reznor's. I imagine this is what Roger Waters' solo career might sound like if he had an inkling of how to actually construct songs without being a master of boring lyrics and zero melody.
It is noted that this album is "a more organic version of Tweaker -- less loops, more traditional instrumentation". Vrenna goes on to state that he enjoys full albums with something special to say and that this follow up to 2001's The Attraction to All Things Uncertain is a "concept within a concept". That concept being influenced by Vrenna's wife's insomnia at around two a.m. every morning. The concept itself being the "things that keep us up at night". OK, so maybe it is akin to something like Roger Waters' The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking wherein that album was about a dream and listening to it was supposed to take as long as the narrator's dream was taking place. But as ever, this is another one of those thematic albums that's plainly full of rubbish and couldn't hold a three-year-old's attention what with its same-sounding dirge-like songs stacked back-to-back.
Not even a bevy of special guests can keep the disc alive. Of biggest note here is probably Robert Smith doing guest vocals on "Truth Is". It's odd in a way to hear Smith minus his bandmates but with someone else trying to achieve success in a darker musical format. In a way, it suits Smith in that it's ironically a new sound for him, even in its parallel context musically. It's almost refreshing to hear him singing someone else's sad words, because for once one can hear Smith just performing and not going through his own washed up and worn out sadness. (Seriously, how long can the sad fat goth act be believable? It hasn't been for ages.)
Jennifer Charles of Elysian Fields pops up on the album's closer "Crude Sunlight", while Will Oldham gets the opening "Ruby". Other notables include Nick Young and The Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser making cameos as well. Vrenna himself doesn't take any vocals, and that helps make this album even more faceless, as his music certainly isn't anything new or exciting, "more organic" or no. The most perplexing thing about it, though, is figuring out what kind of audience this album is aimed at. It's too "old" for the younger NIN/Cure crowd, but a bit too dull to really grab an older listener's curiosity all the way through. Mostly 2 A.M. Wakeup Call comes off like an anonymous vanity project that will likely fade really fast. Pay it no mind. If you didn't know about it before now, chances are you don't need to experience it ever.