Pure Pop For Then People

Underground (WainWave); In The Beginning (WainWave); Live at the Ritz, N.Y.C. (WainWave)

Douglas Wain

By Jeff Kallman

Lexington singer, songwriter and guitarist Douglas Wain just wasn't made for these times, to hear his three CDs (including an all-live set recorded at New York's Ritz), all recorded and issued within the past few months. Assuming Underground is the first of the three releases, the cover photograph says more than perhaps Wain suspects: he was made for the late '70s-early '80s, passing easily for Ric Ocasek's slightly more retiring cousin. The music mostly evokes a kind of Cars Lite, without the chutzpah that made the Cars more than just an endearing New Wave Lite act. (It also seems to lack the Cars' spiky synthesizers, but don't worry: the guitars are plenty enough synthesized that you might, almost, not notice.)

And precisely who is helping Wain make the music (or whether he made it all by his lonesome) is your guess as well as mine - there are no label credits to the sleeve, just the lyrics to all the songs.

As a lyricist, Wain isn't exactly the most inspired of writers, unless you think a verse like the following (from "Aural Information") is the epitome of inspiration: "Yea, I will tell you something/Yea, I will let you know/the things you hear in your ear/are made of pain and pleasure."

And with "Slavedriver," the album closer, we come to something approaching ludicrous when Wain whelps out "She's a mean man" over one of the very few non-Cars-like rhythm tracks he offers. That was the good news; the bad news is, it seems reminiscent of the 1980s "hair bands" of metallic meatheads; in other words, something like a Motley Crue outtake played by Cinderella - or was that the other way around?

In The Beginning is more of the same - pure pop for then people, this time with less Cars than "hair band-meets-arena-pop" influence, played and recorded with the utmost competence and unambitious amiability. ("Let's Get Wild," the leadoff track, is wild only in terms of Richard Marx cutting a side with a watered-down Poison as the backing group.) Here, though, you get a hint of what's to come on Live At The Ritz: "Till She Comes Back" and "China Man" were recorded live (where? and with whom? don't ask - no credits here, either). He delivers it with almost pinpoint control, but pinpoint control works only for a baseball pitcher - there is little sense, if any, of spontaneity, or any sense that he's drawing from his audience in terms of energy, feeling or rejuvenation.

At least, come Live at the Ritz, there is a credited band to whom you can point: Bruce Palmer (not, likely, to be confused with the co-founding Buffalo Springfield member) on guitar, saxophonist Mel Taylor, bassist Tony Tola, keyboardsman Dan Pinto, vocalist Jennifer McQuilken, and drummer/vocalist George Pagonis supporting Wain. And it picks up pretty much where the two live cuts from In The Beginning left off, with a slightly muddier mix (in fact, some of the guitar solos, particularly on "Turn Up The Heat" almost sound as though they were patched in from separate tapes) - and a slightly loaded invitation, in the opening verse from "We're Gonna Have A Party": "Well, come out tonight/let's get it together/we're gonna have some fun/and make some history."

It rather sounds like he's taken some history, overall, history which wasn't always what it was made out to be by those who championed it in the arenas the first time around. You cannot accuse Wain of a lack of competence or professionalism, by any means, and his enthusiasm is apparent - but you could make a case, with these three discs as irrefutable evidence, that time travel didn't leave him with any ideas about transcending time.