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10 January 2013

The Dream Syndicate - 'Medicine Show' (A&M)

They've moved to a major label here, and the change is obvious from the beginning of track 1, 'Still Holding On To You'. Kendra Smith has departed and this is now the Steve Wynn show, with songwriting much more focused towards a crooning Americana style. Side one of Medicine Show is pretty hard to enjoy, perhaps due to Sandy Pearlman's production which emphasises the snare drum in that way I always call "the 80's drum sound" for lack of a better term (see Big Country records for another example). But it's not just the production - the songwriting is closer to Neil than Lou, and while I love Neil too, there's something just a bit off; Precoda's Dionysian leads are left to linger behind the Voice of Wynn, and the songs just aren't as strong. Maybe it's my bias against bigger sounding records, but the songs just don't hold up, with the exception of the Precoda-penned 'Bullet With My Name On It'. But then we flip it and get the title track, a slowed down retread of Days of Wine and Roses-style jamming which builds to a nice plateau by the end. And then the album's highlight, 'John Coltrane Stereo Blues', a largely free romp through a mid-tempo rock foundation which resembles Sonic Youth at points with it's discordant guitar squeals; it's not just the best song on Medicine Show but maybe the best Dream Syndicate song full stop. The ballad 'Merretville' could slow things down but actually closes on a nice 'Torn Curtain'. There's enough good times here, though it's definitely the end for me.

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