Go ahead and trick yourself into believing that the Dream Syndicate spearheaded a movement, or were the figureheads of the 1980s so called “Paisley Underground” in their stomping ground of Los Angeles. The truth is Steve Wynn and Co. would have had just enough going for them had they been the lone fish in the pond of say, Boise or Gloversville. To get down to brass tacks, what the Dream Syndicate had going for them was sheer inspiration, which in their case involved extending an outstretched arm into the well of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. It was a nervy reach at that, sparing no interest in the likes of Neil Young and CBGB fixtures Television either. And nowhere in the band’s revered catalog did they spark as visceral a charge than with their 1982 debut full length, The Days of Wine and Roses, which is seeing reissue this week on Omnivore Records.
Then again “visceral” may not be the most apt term after all, considering Days of Wine… does require a modest amount of emotional investment. Mine paid off with my second or third listen to the lead-off “Tell Me When it’s Over.” It aches so fabulously with Wynn’s indelible guitar spiel, continuously cycling throughout the piece until the “ache” is gracefully transformed into a blissful, incendiary massage. This sweet but sobering 3 1/2 minute masterstroke manages to segue seamlessly into the altogether more rousing “Definitely Clean,” a furious slice of proto-punk outpacing anything the Velvets put their stamp on. The breathless “Then She Remembers” follows suit, with a forward-thinking guitar progression situating the chorus.
The division of album sides that was all but lost in the CD age is of great significance to records like Days… where each physical half represents a (relatively) different modus operandi. Though by no means “pop” songs, side one features considerably more concise and linear fare than it’s flipside. The curtailed flights of fancy evidenced in the first half give way to the downright abstract on side two, not the least of which a pair of epic, stemwinding jams. “Until Lately,” the weakest link in otherwise strenuous set of tunes, ambles on for an aimless and ennui-laced four minutes or so before reaching anything resembling an apex, before finally thudding out a few minutes later. As far as grand finales go, they don’t get much grander than the concluding title track, a searing, white-knuckled catharsis, bleeding copious amounts of feedback and angst, the frenetic yin to the consoling yang of “Tell Me When It’s Over.” The sound of petulant self destruction never sounded this good before or since.
This latest remastering job is crisp and clean, but does nil to exude any sonic elements that weren’t present before. As for the bonus tracks, none from the 2001 Rhino reissue of DWR (which included the preceding Down Here ep and two songs from Wynn’s pre-DS outfit 15 Minutes) are appended to this incarnation. Instead, all of that material is substituted with six songs from heretofore unreleased rehearsal sessions, ostensibly the closest items the band had in the vaults resembling traditional demos. Among them are sneak previews of two songs (“Armed With an Empty Gun” and “Still Holding on You”) that would appear on the Syndicate’s second platter, 1984’s Medicine Show. The prototype of “Still Holding on to You,” feeble as it may be, nonetheless boasts a sinewy charm the finished product lacks. Also plucked from rehearsal tapes are two more long-winded jams: yet another Velvets indebted slow burner “Like Mary,” and the more clamorous “Outside the Dream Syndicate.”