The music on Wake of the Flood is ample, full and carefully rendered. The album boasts nearly 25 minutes of it per side, the recorded sound is crisp and the finished product bears the marks of care in craftsmanship. The band, remarkably, has even transcended a certain studio thinness that characterized such prior efforts as American Beauty and Workingman's Dead.
The new songs, mostly by Hunter-Garcia, cover an eclectic range of styles, from tripping good-timey tag rhyme ("Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo"), to hot psuedo-Jr. Walker syncopatin' ("Let Me Sing Your Blues Away"), to Pollyanna, Beatley vibrations ("Here Comes Sunshine"), to modishly scalloped R&B geetar ("Eyes of the World"). Happily, Jerry Garcia's pedal steel playing has improved; and his mercurial leads can occasionally be darting, dapper and decorative (as on "Eyes").
But despite an impressive stylistic smorgasbord, slick overdubbed production and the best intentions in the world, to my ears this band still sounds generally sick, usually woozy, and often afflicted with perpetual head cold, twinges of sinus trouble, you name it. The poor bastards still can barely sing.
And that's not all! The lyrics on much of Flood plumb new depths of dull-witted, inbred, blissed-out hippy-dippyness. "Wake up to find that you are the eyes of the world/Your heart has its beaches, its homeland and thoughts of its own/Wake now, discover that you are the song that the morning brings/The heart has its seasons, its evenings, and songs of its own." Jonathan Seagull would blush.
Those who admire the Dead already will surely find this new album eminently admirable, also. In many ways, it's one of their most finely-wrought efforts. Thus, Flood will hardly subtract from the Dead's hard-won popularity, let alone their chartered countercultural niche. Besides, in this dark age of rampant waste, who can knock modest, wholesome craft? Even if it does come from a bunch of professional amateurs.