The Wallflowers: “Love Is A Country”

 

Videos by American Songwriter

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Although it wasn’t their first album, 1996’s Bringing Down The Horse was the first release by The Wallflowers that broke through to a large audience. Actually, that’s underselling it a bit, since we’re talking about an album that went quadruple-platinum less than two years after its release and ended up being one of the top 100 albums of the decade.

A success like that tends to overshadow everything that comes subsequently from an artist, especially in the current musical climate where the rule is “here today, gone tonight.” In the case of The Wallflowers, the band has continued to release albums that rise to the peaks of Bringing Down The Horse, while frontman Jakob Dylan has added a couple of excellent solo albums to boot. The band’s last effort, 2012’s Glad All Over, was typically strong, with with the beautifully bittersweet “Love Is A Country” an undeniable high point.

Over a musical backdrop that conjures a road trip through lovely yet desolate territory, Dylan uncorks some of his most effortlessly poetic lyrics suggesting the terrain one must travel in the aftermath of a spent relationship. As a songwriter, he has always preferred an indirect route, lined with ingenious metaphors and striking imagery, to get to the emotional impact he’s seeking; on “Love Is A Country,” that impact is devastatingly profound once it hits in full. This is not a journey for the meek or timid, but it’s one that the broken-hearted have no choice but to make.

The story begins in the aftermath of some kind of cataclysmic event, as evidenced by the opening lines: “No there won’t be an ambush anytime soon/ If the birds are returning, it’s safe enough to say that much is true.” Yet it’s clear that that there have been recent casualties in this barren land “where more than a few good men have failed to come back or get through.” Bemoaning that “the wine isn’t working” as a buffer for the pain anymore, the narrator realizes “the hardships of marching have only just begun” and then surmises that “love is a country you better cross when you’re young,” suggesting that those weakened by age won’t have the stamina for this trek.

In the second verse, Dylan adds a dog with “the heart of a stray,” implying that perhaps the narrator’s own romantic wanderlust doomed him to this lonely land. The hazards of this place seem to come upon the traveler with little warning: “When nothing really happens and then it does.”

“I remember the last time you came home,” Dylan sings to begin the last verse, the clearest indication yet that a fractured relationship is the cause of this tumult. Painful reminders are everywhere he looks: “Now her ring’s on the seat riding shotgun next to my hat/ With her name on the window, where fog settles down on the glass.” The last line drives home the point that the domain of love, so unbearable and unforgiving once abandoned, holds a grudge against deserters: “Now love is a country you leave and not welcome back.”

In an interview with American Songwriter shortly before the release of Glad All Over, Jakob Dylan spoke about how he was okay with never duplicating the commercial success of Bringing Down The Horse. “It’s not frustrating,” he said. “I think all bands can really hope for is to keep working. It’s 20 years later and we’re still a working band with a lot of opportunity and a really strong name out there. Beyond that, I don’t think I have the constitution to do what it would take to make that happen each year anyhow, to be honest.”

What he and The Wallflowers have been able to make happen are a slew of records brimming with intelligence, spirit, and heart. You need listen no further than “Love Is A Country” for proof.

Read the lyrics. 

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