Jakob Dylan has a sense of humor.
"I want to tell you, you've had it coming," he sings atop the funky bass line in "Reboot the Mission," the Clash-y first single from The Wallflowers' new album, Glad All Over, out October 9.
And maybe he's right. Who's to say a rootsy, straight-up rock band can't end a seven-year hiatus and go disco for a minute?
"Oh God, is Dylan fronting Maroon 5 or something? Ick," one YouTube commenter jabbed when the groovy "Reboot" video began making the rounds back in July.
The rest of us? We put on our boogie shoes and sang the irresistible chorus along with Dylan and Clash co-founder Mick Jones: "Eyes on the prize/reboot the mission/I lost my sight/but not the vision."
"You can lose the plot a little bit," Dylan tells me of the ups and downs in The Wallflowers' 23-year history, which includes six albums, a pair of Grammy awards, a Greatest Hits CD, multiple lineup changes and a solo detour. "There were people in and around the group who weren't beneficial to making the best record we could make. Now, for the first time in quite some time, the pieces are in place."
Glad's "pieces" include longtime core bandmates bassist Greg Richling and keyboard player Rami Jaffee, as well as drummer Jack Irons (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Joe Strummer's Latino Rockabilly War) and guitarist Stuart Mathis, all of whom holed up together in a Nashville studio to "just make music for hours and hours" without the distractions of their everyday lives, family commitments or commuting in Los Angeles.
Dylan changed up the formula, too.
"We had a lot of conversations before going in, and everybody wanted to be more involved with writing the music," he says of the recording process. "I brought all my lyrics with me, which was a lot. We played until I found places for the words. It was really just about the band trusting one another more."
Part of that trust meant veering outside of The Wallflowers' trad rock comfort zone.
"I've always wanted to explore, but you have to know your limitations," Dylan says. Danceability doesn't bother him, but laughability does. "I've never aspired to be a goofball, anyhow," he says. "As long as it's believable; they're just songs. They're always in the format of rock 'n' roll with five guys in the lineup."
While The Wallflowers' convincing homage to the Clash (and that band's ability to find genius in practically any mishmash of musical styles) is perceptible in more than one track on the new album, the songwriting seems just as reinvigorated when Dylan and company mine their own talents and tastes. Often Glad sounds like The Wallflowers we know and love, and sometimes it sounds even better.
The second single, "Love is a Country," steams along with the kind of easy melodies the band trademarked on 1996's Bringing Down the Horse; "Misfits and Lovers" tips a hat to classic American rock, while keeping the beat modern; "Have Mercy On Him Now" shimmies in 4/4 time.
Although Dylan's previous two albums, both solo efforts -- the Rick Rubin-produced Seeing Things (2008) and Women and Country (2010) -- gave him a chance to be quiet, this time the balladry's kept to a minimum and the rhythm section's cranking.
"When we were writing Glad All Over, we thought, 'What do we want to play a year from now?'" he says. "I don't want to play an hour and a half of midtempo music [when we're out on the road]."
During a September gig at Atlanta's Smith's Olde Bar, The Wallflowers rocked like a bar band eager to please, whipping out fresh stuff in equal measure with their biggest hits ("One Headlight," "6th Avenue Heartache") for about 300 folks who'd likely never been that close to Jakob Dylan before. (Rumor has it, newbie tunes "Hospital for Sinners" and "It's a Dream" impressed crowds in D.C. that week, as well.)
One listen to Glad All Over, and it's clear The Wallflowers still have a mission. As for the reboot, Dylan says, "Anybody in any situation [can] have a moment to see the light and get yourself organized and get your game back in order."
Follow Kristi York Wooten on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kristiwooten