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Sweetness And Light

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Steve Wynn

Release Date: 1997
Album Notes:

"I'm really consciously excited by music and always trying to make the perfect record," Wynn laughs "but I haven't done that yet. Each record gets a little closer, though. That's a real motivation. I love music. I still buy tons of records and am still curious about everything that comes out and when it comes time to make another record, I filter all the things that are thrilling me at that moment into the new record.

But while Wynn is still drawing constantly from sources around him, he has also clearly developed a definitive sound of his own. "In a way, this new record is a combination of things I liked best about each of my solo albums. It has the raw live band sound of "Melting in the Dark", the songwriting style of "Fluorescent" and "Kerosene Man" and some of the pop production touches of "Dazzling Display". Wynn credits the cohesive approach to additonal time and opportunity in the studio.

"I took 20 days on "Sweetness and Light", which for me is kind of an epic," Wynn continues. He is renowned for making his records in about ten days. One wonders why this one then took twice that.

"Maybe the bettter question is how I was able to make all the other records in only ten days?" When I made the last few records, I had to go with completely maniacal hours and there's lots of stuff I would have done that I just didn't have the time to do. Not that it made them worse records, but I like adding the small overdubs that you don't hear until the fifth listen. That was the big difference and where I spent the extra time."

Does that mean that the mistakes have been polished out of the finished album?

"No no no no," he says emphatically. "That's the thing I don't do. I dont' go back and say "let's fix this part and fix that part". For me overdubs is just where you add the cool things. I'm more influenced by sixties Petula Clark records where there are magical things happening every second. That's what I like to do with my time and money, not make things "perfect" and antiseptic and fault-free."

"It's the live band I've been using for the last year. The guitarist is Rich Gilbert, who was in the Zulus and Human Sexual Response. Armistead Wellford from Love Tractor and Gutterball played bass and Linda Pitmon from Zuzu's Petals is the drummer. There are a few ringers here and there. Dave Rave (Teenage Head) and Lauren Agnelli (Washington Squares) add some background vocals and Joe McGinty (Baby Steps, Losers Lounge, Psychedelic Furs) plays keyboards on the whole album.

Wynn also benefits from the co-production and mixing skills of John Agnello (Dinosaur jr, Patti Smith, Jawbox). "I honestly think this is my best sounding record and a lot of the credit has to go to John Agnello," according to Wynn. "He was great in that he completely understood the record I wanted to make and always found ways to take the music from my head and get it onto tape. That hasn't always been so easy in the past."

Item 1: cd
# Track Title Play
.75¢
1Silver Lining

Lyrics

Just out of JFK
The turbulence
Was terrifying
I held my breath
And did my best
To shake my fear of flying
I'm not so heroic
Cavalier
Or even stoic
You want catastrophe?
It's nothing that you'd want to see

Look over there
The sun is shining
Breaking the clouds
That blocked the way
Look over there
A silver lining
Right over there
Well, look at that!

Just over Wichita
The flight attendant
Started screaming
I placed my head
Between my knees
And I started dreaming
I don't set examples
Bad excuses
Always ample
You want calamity
It's nothing that you'd want to see

Just shy of LAX
The preacher
Led us all in prayer
I had objections
But decided
That I wouldn't dare
I'm not ordinary
Evidence
Is quite contrary
You want catastrophe
It's nothing that you'd want to see

Look over there!
The sun is shining
Breaking the clouds
That blocked the way
Look over there!
A silver lining
Right over there
Well, look at that!

If not the only song about a barely averted airline disaster, certainly the most cheerful and optimistic. I did actually write this aboard an airplane but nothing else in the song is true. Thank goodness.-SW

Sweetness And Light
2Black Magic

Lyrics

Underneath the highway
That's where you'll find me
Broken mirrors and black cats
Leaving trains behind me
Messed around with fire
Played around with thunder
Messing with the shadows
Is it any wonder?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained
And now there's nothing lef
Black magic
Coming down on me
Black magic
So blind that I can't see anymore

When I was a young boy
I was drawn to danger
Double dares and bad luck
We were never strangers
Every bit of darkness
Add to my collection
And then the lights would fade
Under my direction (ch)

I hear that you've been laughing
Around the skulls and bones
PLaying with the candles
When you were home alone
It's an ancient story
But you might forget it
Careful what you wish for
Because you might regret it (ch)

In a world filled with pitfalls and potholes, it seems silly to actually go looking for trouble. Of course, that never stopped most people including myself. There's always an allure to the darkness but thrills are never really cheap.-SW

Sweetness And Light
3Sweetness And Light

Lyrics

Jennifer sits and she cries in the dark
And she dreams about dreaming and waits for the spark
Of anything that would remind her
Of anything else again

She remembers the day that she drove him away
How she hated him then! (But she loves him today)
And she wonders what she would say to him now
It doesn't matter anyway

Sweetness and light
Why can't it always be sweetness and light

Jennifer writes in her journal.
She says "He's been calling me over and over again
And every time I pick up the phone
He says nothing."

She can't remember the pain, she can't remember the kicks
Just a Stevie Wonder song from 1976
And they say you should learn from you past mistakes
That's easy for you to say

Sweetness and light
Why can't it always be sweetness and light

And she says, "Why do you call me?
Why do you write me?
Why are you always around?
What do you want from me?
What do I have for you?
Why won't you leave me alone?"

Jennifer writes in her journal, she says
"He's been calling me over again
And I put on a record and turn up the sound
And I close my eyes until the sound goes down."

The phone rings over and over again
And over and over and over again
She picks it up on the 20th ring and says,
"Don't fuck with me!"

Not a true story but even if it was a true story I'd never confess. More of a composite (ah, THERE'S a cop-out) and an observation of various degradations of love, perceived and actual. Also, I believe, the first time I've ever used a swear world on record. Damn!-SW

Sweetness And Light
4This Strange Effect Sweetness And Light
5This Deadly Game

Lyrics

Polly said to Jack,
"Baby I like your style.
Would you step into my office
For a little while?
I've got a sugar-coated web
And a candy center"
I said "To know her
Is to defend her."
Oh, it's all or nothing
Queen of diamonds
And a second cousin
Come in, sign your name
For this deadly game

Babylon was
Draped in haze
And nobody
Had seen the night in days
She was dancing in a room
In a violet sweater
I said, "To know her
Is to regret her"
Oh, it's now or never
Don't think of me whenever
Someone has to take the blame
For this deadly game

Daddy won't be home
Until a little later
And he'll be looking
For his little instigator
Take whatever
Means are handy
To know me
Is to understand me
Oh, it's not that easy
Immaculate but a little greasy
Sometimes they're not the same
In this deadly game

Polly said to Jack,
"Baby, I like your style
Would you step over here
For a little while?"
I said,
"I'll see you later."
To know her
Is to hate her
Oh, it's time for action
A pile of words and a cool retraction
No time for shame
In this deadly game

The black widow isn't alone in the animal kingdom, merely the most efficient. This song was written in a time when the lethality of love is more apparent and literal. But the deadly game is nothing new. Just ask Samson and John the Baptist.-SW

Sweetness And Light
6How's My Little Girl

Lyrics

Recognition stains your eyes
My, it's funny how time flies
Maybe it's the liquor
Nothing but a flicker

How's my little girl?
Is it really better now?
Underneath the lines
Underneath the signs
Underneath the curls
How's my little girl?

Make the mark in borrowed time
Words can soften any crime
Never mind the scandals
The lotions or the candles (ch)

And there's nothing in your eyes
And there's nothing you can hide
Anymore

The temptation of a second look
To take back the chances that you took
Maybe it's the liquor
Nothing could be quicker (ch)

Although this song seems to bring a wistful response from divorced fathers (and who am I to rain on their, um, rain) it's more of a somewhat sleazy, last-call come-on to a former lover. Sort of a more cynical version of Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times."-SW

Sweetness And Light
7Ghosts

Lyrics

I hear you're feeling better now
The fog has lifted and the haze has shifted
But the magic's really not the same
And now there's nothing left to blame

I hear you're sending letters now
Apologies and explanations
And though it's all forgiven now
It's not forgotten anyhow

It's only ghosts
And ghosts can't touch me now

I hear you're looking younger now
Better than you ever were
Though late at night when there's no one there
You feel every rip and tear (ch)

I hear you're walking lighter now
The sun is shining from your eyes
And even though it's brightly lit
It's not the way you picture it (ch)

I hear you're feeling wiser now
And telling it to all your friends
And though you're really not that sure
You kind of miss the way you were (ch)

In a time when every personal correction and reinvention is vocalized, documented and then marketed for the talk-show circuit, this song simply poses the possibility that any amputation leaves one occasionally scratching for the missing piece.-SW

Sweetness And Light
8Blood From A Stone

Lyrics

The final curtain revealed nothing at all
Piled up like junk at the end of the hall
Empty bottles long since drained
Cheapened by the smell that no longer remained

Damned if you do, damned if you don't
I said I still do but but she said that I won't
The ending was written a long time ago
It's a foregone conclusion that you just didn't know

What do you want to hear
Now that you're alone?
Nothing left to give anymore
Like blood from a stone

Silence echoes through the lonely room
Torn by the madness but no longer consumed
I see you in the mirror but the mirror is gone
Paralyzed and numb but I have to move on (ch)

A pleasant little catharsis and there's nothing better to
counter the blues of an emptied house than a bit of emotional spring
cleaning. This song was brought to the session as an afterthought and the version on the record is actually the first time the band EVER played the song. a lot of nodding and hand-watching.-SW

Sweetness And Light
9In Love With Everyone

Lyrics

You're a restless kind
In love with everyone
I'm not saying I mind
But you used to be so much fun

If you think that you want to know me
And you don't want to look in my eyes
If there's nothing you want to show me
It's not a surprise

You're the ruthless kind
In love with everyone
I'm not saying that's nice
But I guess you know how it's done

And if you're looking in my direction
And we don't see eye to eye
If you want, you can try to call me
But I'll be wondering why

You're the perfect kind
In love with everyone
I'm not saying I mind
Come on! Show me how it's done

And if you think that you want to know me
But you don't want to hear any lies
If you're looking for your own reflection
Just open your eyes!

Given that yesterday's caustic rebel is today's bitter
asshole, I have no complaint with a kindler, gentler reinvention of self.
Ah, but you used to be so much fun.-SW

Sweetness And Light
10The Great Divide

Lyrics

After all is clear
Along the great divide
You can look down
But you can't come inside

And every day's a little slower
Than the one before
And everyone feels okay
But they're still not sure

Everything is breaking
Along the great divide
It's a long way down
But it's a lovely slide

And everybody feels the same
As they did before
And everybody feels okay
But they're still not sure

One of the slowest songs I've ever recorded and it certainly is harder to play slowly than quickly. Nonetheless, those major seventh chords certainly need time to breathe like any fine whine.-SW

Sweetness And Light
11That's The Way Love Is Sweetness And Light
12If My Life Was An Open Book

Lyrics

If my life was an open book
I guess I'd let you have a look
Set you up with Chapter One
And then I'd wait until you're done
There's nothing that I'd want to hide
I just forget to look inside
Would it be worth the time it took
If my life was an open book?

If I could make some new mistakes
And not the same ones every time
Time and time and time again
Time and time and time again
Maybe I could feel some shame
And not try hard to act surprised
The promises I wouldn't break
If I could make some new mistakes

But I thought that I should let you know
The things that I don't always show
Might not be worth the time it took
If my life was an open book

If my life was an open book
I guess I'd let you have a look
And you could try to change the end
But I'd just change it back again
Then maybe we could collaborate
On all the sections that you hate
Would it be worth a second look
If my life was an open book?

A songwriter's denial of culpability. And after toiling over an explanation of each of these songs, this is the admission that sometimes I just don't know. Sorry.

Sweetness And Light
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Sweetness And Light

  • Pitchfork

    Steve Wynn's new CD, Sweetness and Light, is the record he wanted and tried to record in the early 1990s. Back then, over two records, Kerosene Man and Dazzling Display,......more>
  • Pitchfork Media

    Steve Wynn Sweetness and Light [Zero Hour] Rating: 8.2 Steve Wynn's new CD, Sweetness and Light, is the record he wanted and tried to record in the early 1990s. Back then, over two records,......more>
  • CMJ

    Steve Wynn's career goes back to the early '80s, when he served as the primary songwriter and frontman for the Dream Syndicate, a pivotal act in L.A.'s lauded "paisley underground"......more>

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