The Dream Syndicate - The Days of Wine and Roses (Remastered & Expanded) CD Review

The Days of Wine and Roses opened a lot of doors back in 1982, and remarkably enough, it sounds better than ever today.
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The Days of Wine and Roses (1982) by The Dream Syndicate is one of those records that just seems to get better as the years go by. The band were one of the leaders of the early '80's Paisley Underground scene in Los Angeles, and The Days of Wine and Roses was their full-length debut. For this listener, the album is like a great film. The nine songs tell a story, and that story sometimes changes, depending on your mood. Such a personal connection to the music is a rare thing anymore, and is probably one of the reasons the album is so iconic. Or it may just be the songs themselves, which are some of the best of the era.

Although many felt that the term "Paisley Underground" was an inaccurate description of The Dream Syndicate, it certainly fit "Tell Me When It's Over," the opening track. The song is a jingle-jangle explosion, with Steve Wynn's voice at its most melodic, and Karl Precoda's guitar ringing out one of the catchiest hooks they ever wrote. "Then She Remembers" is a nod to L.A. punk rock, not that of The Germs, but of The Seeds. This is killer garage-rock, and a showcase for the rhythm section of bassist Kendra Smith and drummer Dennis Duck. The highlight of side one had to be "Halloween" though. Precoda's solo intro gives way to a chiming power-pop bed of sound over which we hear the subterranean vocals of Wynn. If I were asked to name a favorite Dream Syndicate song, "Halloween" just might be the one.

For some reason the band always shrugged off comparisons to The Velvet Underground, but it is a strange denial. First of all, The Dream Syndicate was a name used by the La Monte Young group that included John Cale. More to the point though are the songs on the second side of the original Slash LP. "When You Smile" and  "Until Lately" are bluesy feedback-fests that also venture into the drone at times. Bassist Kendra Smith would leave the group after this album, but her vocals on "Too Little Too Late" recall those of Nico on "I'll Be Your Mirror" from the first V.U. LP. Finally we come to "The Days of Wine and Roses," which really has it all. This is another blues-informed piece with plenty of feedback that features strange lyrics and an almost desperate vocal attack from Wynn. As Blue Oyster Cult once said, "This ain't the Summer of Love."

Considering just how influential The Days of Wine and Roses was, it is surprising that it has been out of print for nearly a decade. The current reissue is from Omnivore, who have been doing remarkable things lately. All of the previously unreleased bonus material comes from rehearsal tapes. Two of the six tracks would be fleshed out to appear on their 1984 follow-up, Medicine Show. The remaining four are great jams that catch the spirit of The Dream Syndicate playing while nobody was looking. Rather than carefully selected live tracks and alternate mixes, these extras offer a very interesting look at a band working things out. I hope Omnivore's idea of added content catches on, for it is very enlightening. In this regard they remind me of what Criterion does when releasing films to DVD/Blu-ray - and that is good company to keep.

The argument has been made that without The Dream Syndicate the whole college rock/alternative music scene would have been different. I think that is a stretch, but I would venture to say that just about everyone who listened to The Days of Wine and Roses back in 1982 went on to do something to contribute to the underground music scene. Even if it was just buying someone's 'zine. The Days of Wine and Roses opened a lot of doors, and remarkably enough, it sounds better than ever today.