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Midnight Man: Steve Wynn.

Steve Wynn packs a wallop on 'My Midnight'

By Nicky Baxter

MIDWAY THROUGH THE FIRST track on My Midnight, Steve Wynn tosses off a line about Neil Young and Crazy Horse. No surprise there; along with Velvet Underground, Young has always been something of a sonic mentor to the former Dream Syndicate chief.

Reveling in the grizzled guitarist's primal screaming, Wynn has forged a style that packs the wallop of primal rock with a bright-eyed cynicism leavened by charmingly smart-alecky wordsmithing.

As far back Dazzling Display, his second outing as a solo artist, Wynn was successfully creating offbeat scenarios littered with outsiders, transients and reluctant romantics. For My Midnight (Zero Hour), Wynn has crafted an album full of bittersweet wryly spun songs, enfolded in heroically churning guitars, chirping violins and white-knuckled backbeats.

On "Out of This World," Wynn shows that he is still infatuated with wordplay. The lines "You are so hypnotic/You, so metronomic/You know how to play me/You know how to slay me" are delivered in a typically laconic fashion.

The singer's Iggy-meets-Dylan drawl is as parched as an afternoon in a Arizona desert. Bassist Tony Maimone and drummer Linda Pitmon set up a sturdy rhythmic thrust. The latter flails away with uncommon ardor, laying into the kick-drum while simultaneously pummeling the rest of her kit with gleeful abandon. Maimon ducks in and out of the mix until the song's final verse, during which his bass assumes centerstage, buzzing like an amplified hornet's nest.

"500 Girl Mornings" commences with some of the delirium-inducing feedback that Wynn has been addicted to since his days as Dream Syndicate's frontman. As Simon-simple as any Neil Young thrasher, the song obsesses over a couple of chords, generating a trancelike groove that in the 1960s made the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man" the toast of the East Coast's heroin clique.

The lyrics string together a series of disparate images--"Shelley was a ghost, and she never wrote back/Jackie had a story for everything that she lacked/Sarah slept forever, and I thought that she was dead/But she wasn't dead"--sung in a cracked whine. The tune's final two-and-a-half minutes are given over to a relentless cacophony over which a keyboard player comps desultorily, until a final burst of brain-scrambling guitar brings things to a skidding halt.

"Nothing but the Shell" sports some of Wynn's best off-the-cuff verse-crafting to date. Guitarist Chris Brokaw and Wynn join forces for some corrosive Young-Bowie (circa '72) mayhem. McGinty's strident piano thickens the retro-plot by adding to the song's descending riff figure.

Wynn's tongue-in-cheek name-checking is a hoot. Who but Wynn could pair off Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with Young's Crazy Horse? Even so, the tune's opening lines supply the real kick, with the singer ridding himself of his bad habits as he prepares for bad times to come.

The title track is somewhat disappointing, musically. Juxtaposed against the head-rush of "500 Girl," "Nothing but the Shell" and "Cats and Dogs" (on which Wynn goes faux soul boy!), it just sounds dispirited. The ballad "The Mask of Shame" fares much better, with McGinty switching to accordion for a tale about a high-living gambler down on his luck.

All in all, the album's brightest moments arrive when Wynn and company go uptempo. Brimming with wit, scratchy rhythms and nifty hooks, these tunes showcase Wynn's sure-handed approach to bash 'n' pop.

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From the May 13-19, 1999 issue of Metro.

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