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Holy Hell! Bringing Down the Horse Turns 20

Holy Hell! Bringing Down the Horse Turns 20

Bringing Down the Horse is a good album, crisp and clean, packed with sweet sentiment and dramatic hooks .

Remember The Wallflowers? Sure you do. They provided reliable soundtrack fodder and radio-ready earworms in the ‘90s that were impossible not to like. They were led by Jakob Dylan (The Son of Dylan), and covered David Bowie’s “Heroes” for the Godzilla soundtrack, which fit nicely alongside Puff Daddy’s “Come With Me.” They wrote hits like “The Difference,” “One Headlight” and “6th Avenue Heartache.” Of course you remember them. But you probably remember them most as a band playing in the background of some formative moment in your past: your first make out sesh, your first drunken party, that time you got to talk to that seemingly unattainable love object. The Wallflowers are part of the collective memory of a certain generation. But does their debut album, Bringing Down the Horse hold any musical value twenty years after its release?

Bringing Down the Horse is a good album, crisp and clean, packed with sweet sentiment and dramatic hooks and boasting the beautiful “Three Marlena’s.” But it’s hard to separate the songs from the memories they evoke. Two decades after its release, the album is an exercise in nostalgia. More or less a response to grunge and released alongside the rise of pop punk on mainstream charts, it can’t possibly hold up on its own merit. With a sound somewhere between soft rock and ‘90s rock, the album was in direct contrast to the boy band and arena pop that topped the charts at the time. It didn’t truly have a place then, and—now that bands like The Gaslight Anthem have eaten themselves—it doesn’t have a place now. It’s no more than an outlier, a pleasant memory.

An argument could be made that The Wallflowers’ contemporaries (Matchbox 20, Barenaked Ladies, Third Eye Blind, etc.) and all of their successes could discredit that thesis. But how many of those bands do you listen to today and really, truly believe that they weren’t just placeholder acts, in-betweeners without an era? These bands still have fans, still tour, still make records. But so does KC and the Sunshine Band—and they were more relevant.

The Wallflowers had little to say. They didn’t ruffle feathers, didn’t carve out a style, haven’t influenced current acts and ultimately didn’t do much to keep from disappearing after one major success and a short run of near-misses.Bringing Down the Horse is a good album to go back to, listen through and enjoy. But that’s all.

Gems from the ‘90s like this are a product of their era would probably be totally overlooked today. The Wallflowers’ debut album is a merry little time capsule, and anyone who has buried a time capsule knows that it’s exciting to collect meaningful trinkets and bury them and wonder what you’ll think of them when you dig them up 15, 20 years later. The passage of the intervening years may inevitably make the whole thing seem silly and juvenile. But, like this album, once you dig up that capsule you’ll think: I remember this. It might make you smile; it might dredge up forgotten emotions. Then you’ll go about your day.

Listen to Bringing Down the Horse, recall fond memories and go about your day.

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