Steve Wynn, Static Transmission

Twenty-one years after The Days of Wine & Roses, former Dream Syndicate leader Steve Wynn should be settling into a sweet, irrelevant decline. Instead, he’s making some of the best music of his career. After a decade of good but not entirely great solo albums, he released Here Comes The Miracles in 2001. An honest-to-god double album, it could’ve all fit onto one CD with a little editing (the two discs clock in at a total of 82 minutes). However, to do so would seem sacrilegious. As loose and alive as it was consistent and complete, Miracles was a penultimate career record, finding space for all corridors of Wynn’s psyche. Every one of its nineteen tracks was a keeper.

As follow-ups to monumental double albums go, Static Transmission is frighteningly good. Credited to Wynn and the Miracle 3 (although among the core three members, from Miracles it only retains drummer Linda Pitmon), it’s a keen companion piece to Miracles, reprising its diversity and breadth while aiming for a cleaner, less feedback-drenched sound (minus the slight overproduction that now dates Wynn’s early ‘90s records Kerosene Man and Dazzling Display.) Wynn shows he’s still capable of taking risks by opening with “What Comes After”, a slow, sobering ballad, and a death-themed one at that. But rather than setting the tone, it gives way to the six-note guitar riff and “bang, bang, bang” chorus of “Candy Machine”, the sloppiest, loudest, and most fun (and Miracles-like) song here.

Unlike his earlier, more genre-thematic solo work, every song here could come from a different album. With its electric piano, cool acoustic guitar solo, and utter lack of blue-eyed soul clichés, “The Ambassador of Soul” is the kind of effortless pop song you wish spiritual godfather Lou Reed was still capable of. The bracing, road-trip ready, six-minute “Amphetamine” pays roguish tribute to Easy Rider, but its ingenuity lies in both the urgency and simplicity of its one-note bass lines and “na-na-na, nah-na-na-yeah” outro vocals. “California Style” packs nearly as many gleaming hooks into its three minutes as, say, The New Pornographers do, while its hazy backing vocals and mewling guitars add a sinister sheen to all the handclaps and Eagles quotes (“We’re gonna take it to the limit / in a New York minute). The concise, head-bobbing “Hollywood” comes from the same place as Concrete Blonde’s “Still In Hollywood”, only with a less anger and frustration and more observation (remember that Wynn was once a journalist), reflection, and irony. “Maybe Tomorrow” perfects the minor key, Neil Young-with-gliding-strings ballad Wynn’s been working on for years, and “A Fond Farwell” strikes a most delicate, delicious balance between his ominous vocal, an industrial-sounding guitar and the sweet, spine-tingling bells on the catchy chorus.

Like Miracles, what makes Static Transmission so remarkable is not so much how strong each of its (initially simple-sounding) songs is, but more how well they all coalesce with each subsequent play. And, if you’re tired of lame unlisted bonus tracks, stick around for the song that follows “A Fond Farewell”. Delightfully ramshackle and sly, it boasts this irresistible line in its chorus: “If it was easy, everybody would do it”. It recalls that one of Wynn’s (and any musician’s) greatest assets is a sense of humor. With that in mind, Static Transmission works because it doesn’t try to top its predecessor; it just, on a smaller scale, captures the same qualities and quirks that made it great.

(Although it obviously pales a little in comparison, the eight-track bonus disc of outtakes from the album's sessions included with the American release is worth hearing and owning. Highlights include “Riverside”, which reprises the template of “Maybe Tomorrow” with a little more oomph and menace; “Timing” and “Again”, both of which could be Bachman-Turner Overdrive in a spry mood; “Survival Blues”, which succinctly captures the hedonism of ‘70s California-style rock with its organ and sitar; and a minimalist, eight-minute, tremolo-heavy noir cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper”.)