Songwriter Steve Wynn, the former Dream Syndicate frontman, has been on a tear since 1996 when he offered Melting in the Dark. Since then, his records have featured howling, wailing rock & roll and deep, dark acoustic reflections -- all of them bearing his trademark noir-ish lyrics that offer the shadowy side of life, love, and violence. He's employed a variety of musicians, and they've always sounded like hired guns. On ...Tick...Tick...Tick he's got himself a real band. They're all younger than he is, and they have the hunger it takes to really execute Wynn's unique songs. Start with drummer Linda Pitmon, who acts as co-producer (along with Wynn and Craig Schumacher) on these sides. Add to this the fact that the entire band (including Dave DeCastro on bass and guitarist Jason Victor) plots the arrangements. Wynn's willful loss of total control has benefited him in spades. The set jumps out of the gate howling with "Wired," where it sounds as if Wynn is singing through a megaphone. It's followed by the creepy rocker "Cindy, It Was Always You," co-written with über hard-boiled crime fiction novelist George Pelecanos. On "Killing Me," Wynn employs Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" guitar riff and mutates it into something utterly unhinged. The shuffle gets moved into overdrive as Victor makes his guitar scream, roar, and squeal while Wynn holds down the rhythm and overdubs a distorted slide. It's followed by a seemingly simple ballad entitled "The Deep End," which rises in drama to the breaking point about two thirds of the way through. It's full of a kind of emptiness and questioning about the experience of loss; it expresses fear at the ensuing emptiness and the apprehension of being in this space. DeCastro's bass enters about a minute in, and propels the guitars as Pitmon accents every line as if it were the gospel truth -- and for the singer, it is. The swirling beauty that rises in the middle of the track transforms the protagonist's voice, as if by voicing his fear he can somehow live with it or transcend it. But the music becomes the "deep end" that he enters -- and it enters him and becomes part of who he is. There is no resolution at the end of the tune; after seven minutes the questions still hang there, waiting to be answered.
"Turning of the Tide," which immediately follows, is the mirror image, with the refrain stating "Don't be afraid/It's just the turning of the tide." Here again, guitars climb astride one another and begin ringing, jangling in heated dialogue to underscore the words as Pitmon's in-the-pocket drumming urges them forward. "Your Secret" is a dark psychedelic midtempo ballad with restrained -- barely -- twin guitars reaching at every chorus for a release that never comes. They're let out of the cage for the feedback freakout that comes in the next track, "Wild Mercury." Once more the megaphone vocal returns to ride the reckless abandon that becomes a virtual sonic storm and almost gets swallowed by its force. Victor is a guitar monster -- it shows all over this record, but particularly here. But it's not enough, as the final cut, the two-part "No Tomorrow," is the best Dream Syndicate reference in Wynn's catalog yet. It begins with a hypnotic low-key guitar riff that quickly gets pushed seductively by DeCastro and Pitmon. Wynn's storytelling here is exquisite, offering a tale of bottoming out in part one and of desperate redemption in part two. The middle section is bridged by the band jamming, and the guitar playing by Wynn and Victor sounds like an outtake of Television's "Marquee Moon," moving over the red line until it becomes its antithesis: a hopeful offer of love by a scarred, broken, street-smart, and utterly unrelenting Romeo. One final time the wailing guitars underscore the commitment in the singer's voice just before the final verse. At just over eight minutes it's a devastating, chilling ending to an effort only befitting a wizened veteran who knows how to push his own envelope until it tears.