PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIUM: WINO FOLLOWS HIS MUSE WHEREVER THE HELL IT TAKES HIM ON SOLO DEBUT
I posit a theory: Scott “Wino” Weinrich = doom metal’s Dylan. Even if you can’t stand what he does, you recognize how important the dude is to the development of heavy metal, and must bow to his continued mastery of all things Sabbath-inspired. In a career that’s spanned over three decades, Wino’s fronted a ridiculous number of great bands, including St. Vitus, The Obsessed, Spirit Caravan and The Hidden Hand – one band for every two drug habits he’s kicked. No matter how great his bandmates, it’s Wino himself that draws us to each new project. He’s the denim and leather-clad patron saint of trad doom, its spiritual center and most trusted voice. But somehow, before Punctuated Equilibrium, we’ve never had an album that Wino owned in both name and spirit.
That Wino’s pushing fifty and sounds better than ever on Punctuated Equilibrium is due to three main factors: A) He’s not wandering the streets of Hollywood, tweaked out on meth anymore, B) He’s boosted by the killer rhythm section of Clutch drummer Jean Paul Gaster and Rezin bassist Jon Blank, C) As with Lemmy’s gradual deification, age has actually amplified Wino’s badassedness. Seriously, can you name another grey-hair that can pull off the “posing with my hog on the grass” look or the “standing barefoot with my axe in front of a red curtain” look without coming across like a douchebag?
While there’s precious little on Punctuated Equilibrium that will surprise Wino-philes, it offers up a healthy sampling of the man’s many musical personalities. He does his blues-rock guitar shaman thing in “Release Me” and “Smilin’ Road,” both saucy boogies in the vein of Cream or Gov’t Mule. Ridiculous wah-wah solos dip instrumentals “The Women in the Orange Pants” and “Wild Blue Yonder” in soaking-wet blotting paper. Heavier songs “Eyes of the Flesh” and “Silver Lining” crawl through tar pit Sabbath grooves. There’s a little bit of everything that makes Wino Wino. He probably recognized that when he gave the album its title, which refers to a theory of evolution that suggests rare, rapid-fire bursts of genetic change.
So here’s the paradox: Wino’s good at too many things. There’s just no consistency in mood or approach on Punctuated Equilibrium, and as a result the album feels directionless. It’s thrilling to get your ass served to you on three completely different platters over the first three songs. But the track-by-track recalibration wears by the less-inspired middle stretch, and the second half gets bogged down by the lengthy jam track “Wild Blue Yonder” and two instrumentals that lack Wino’s most expressive instrument: his voice. When Wino opens his mouth, we listen, even when he’s singing “Dreamed last night of making love in the sky” (“Release Me”). When he doesn’t, we patiently wait for him to sing again.
I’m torn between applauding Wino for letting it all hang out on his solo debut and wishing he had reigned in his multi-directional talents to make it tauter. When Punctuated Equilibrium is on, it scorches. That happens about half of the time. But ya know… even Dylan was inconsistent.
(3 1/2 out of 5 horns)