The difference between great and bad psychedelia? Great psychedelia always sounds like someone has slipped you a mickey — bad psychedelia sounds like it’s the band that’s drinking out of the wrong glass. It’s the subtle shade of difference between The Easybeats and Lothar and the Hand People, the difference between the first half of the Rolling Stones’ “Gomper” and the second — it’s no coincidence that the Waxwings quote a line from it on the equally incandescent “Every Light You See.” Hooo, they’re crafty borrower bees.
But make no mistake, on Let’s Make Our Descent, the Waxwings are always the ones in control of the spiking, always serving up their strange brew with a telling wink that hasn’t been seen since the Dandy Warhols came down. Why shouldn’t the Waxwings know when the combination of droning fuzz, eerie Rick Wright organs and ghostly lyrical apparitions is going to take effect? It’s all well-documented in studies published by Pink Floyd, Pretty Things and Television. (Check out the Verlaine/Lloyd interplay on “All the Fuss” for the best illustration. In fact, most of the guitars here sound like a tribute to those two and Keith Richards during his brief and underrated Satanic Majesties/Beggars Banquet period, when freaking out was mandatory until the threat of Hendrix subsided.)
With 20/20 hindsight of neo-psychedelia and neo-neo-psychedelia, the Waxwings discard everything that didn’t work (see: songs about paisley and doing anything on the moon) and aren’t precious about keeping everything like it was uncorked from a time capsule packed in 1967. They remember all the high energy of punk that was missing in the Summer of Love save for precious freak-beat singles. Their use of compressed sax is straight outta glitter and their non sequitur about jumping out of windows and crashing through the pavement or informing you that “The Poison Board is sending you home” are sentiments that went unvoiced in that groovy time. Even when the ’Wings momentarily break the mood with the pretty acoustic numbers “Of Late” and “Expected of You,” they insert enough dissonant guitar and organ licks (and graceful flourishes courtesy of producer/guitar fill-in Brendan Benson) to let you know it’s not a Ken Stringfellow CD. These quieter moments hint at the heart that’s missing from the rest of this buoyant if purposefully shallow record. I imagine there’ll be a time when the Waxwings will wax serious in the lyric department and paint their masterpiece. This isn’t quite it — but it’s a welcome distraction. Any album that has you wondering if they’re singing “your grounded sun” or “you’re grounded, son” is already doing more than what’s expected of most records minted today.
E-mail Serene Dominic at firstname.lastname@example.org.