Big Wreck’s In Loving Memory Of 15 Years On

Justin Spicer / October 8, 2012

In Loving Memory Of is distinct in the many factors in which it gained attention, because it never really did gain widespread attention despite its many opportunities to explode.

But it did draw a crowd; a curious lot brought together by strange social circumstances and word of mouth that made Big Wreck a pop oddity at a time of changing musical norms. Lead single “The Oaf” (which later adopted the parenthetical ‘My Luck is Wasted’ so as not to confuse the record buying crowd only familiar with the song’s choral hook) was instantly recognizable for how authentically classic its sound in a world awash with manufactured distortion and rage.

But there was a fresh spirit surrounding the Boston-founded foursome. “The Oaf” may have taken its cues from heavy handed rockers such as Zeppelin and The Who but the spit polish of its bluesy refrains piqued those curiously hunting bigger and better. The world was populating itself with clever pop culture references and a need for less musical investment was taking place. But here stood a monolith to the world as it once existed and for a select crowd, we stood bewildered but in awe of this ebon obelisk.

The first taste of mainstream opportunity came in the form of “12 Angry Viewers,” an attempt by MTV to manage the contempt from some viewers bothered by the network’s shifting focus to original programming and away from music videos. Each afternoon a panel of twelve individuals from MTV’s target demographic would watch a handful of videos and vote on their favorite, with the winners from Monday through Thursday facing off on Friday’s show for a slot in regular rotation. It’s here “The Oaf” found an audience, winning its day before losing in a tight contest on the Friday show. Big Wreck’s star was beginning to rise. Though it didn’t make much of a mark on MTV, it was given ample play on M2 as the sister network aimed to fill the music video gap and reward a strong performer among its eight hour video blocks.

“The Oaf” became a Top 10 hit in the U.S. and Canada and the sky was the limit. The marketing machine kicked into high gear and the band’s second single, “That Song,” found itself making a modest (but nonetheless notable) splash on the charts and helped solidify Big Wreck as a band worth attention. Despite never receiving reputable magazine spreads and undying admiration from those who flocked to In Loving Memory Of…, the album’s footprint is noticeable 15 years later.

But the “The Oaf” and its follow-up singles didn’t move units of In Loving Memory Of. The album wasn’t a dust catcher but it wasn’t a hot commodity, peculiar in an era where a mini-hit meant enough of the record buying public would place faith in the whole of an album. It was before the rise of peer-to-peer pirates but after 7-inch pressings and cassingles were merited fair for the mainstream looking to hear their favorite songs ad nauseam.

The story of the band was equally intriguing for anyone dreaming of rock stardom. The band formed at the heralded Berklee College of Music, a safe haven for musical masterminds wanting to be the next great rock band or pop star. Helmed by charismatic vocalist and guitarist Ian Thornley, the urban legend of Big Wreck soon began to consume the band in and around Boston. The members relocated to Thornley’s native Toronto, put pen to a major label contract with Atlantic Records and began churning out what would become In Loving Memory Of.

However, the band’s name became a fulfilling prophecy. It took four years for a proper follow-up (2001’s The Pleasure and the Greed) and the musical landscape had drastically shifted. Despite a place for heavy riffs and vapid lyrics–both of which The Pleasure and the Greed devolved into–it lacked the charm and instant recognition of “The Oaf” or the nostalgic callback of “That Song.” The band broke up and Thornley began chasing the high from the band’s first album, forgoing the intricacies of In Loving Memory Of in favor of arena rock overtures with friend Chad Kruger of Nickelback or backing Canadian chanteuse Sarah Harmer in the studio. Needless to say, success has yet to find Thornley or the rest of band as time and taste has moved well beyond 1997 sensibilities.

Years of endless touring with his self-titled band and only one solo album to show for it has led Thornley back to fellow Big Wreck band mate, Brian Doherty. The pair has reunited under the Big Wreck banner, releasing Albatross earlier this year in hopes of reigniting the flame. Mimicking the stripped down band (bassist David Henning and drummer Forrest Williams are absent from the new lineup), the album blightly hints at the thunderous power and laissez-faire rockdom of In Loving Memory Of even as Thornley and Doherty keep it simple.

As it stands, the band’s strongest energy remains burning throughout In Loving Memory Of. An uneven album (as most late 90s rockers were), its bombastic production and larger than life riffs still cut through the graying pop deluge. The hurdy-gurdy of “The Oaf” is still exhilarating, building anticipation before big snare hits blow up the powder keg. The gunshot open of “That Song” unleashes a throb of fond remembrances; those songs of our youth that speak about a moment in time we’ll never get back, of which “That Song” now exists. The industrial crunch of “Fall Through the Cracks” hints at Thornley’s romantic tendencies, usually drowned in quaint missives dismissing opinion and thought for fatal attraction.

In Loving Memory Of’s torch songs are equally intrusive. The organ of “Under the Lighthouse” provides much of the emotion in an otherwise typical break-up song; coupling with the jangled acoustic melody and 12-bar solo to deliver a jukebox soundtrack to drowning sorrows. The guitar wails of album closer “Overemphasizing” existing among the pantheon of the best classic rock slow-burners. “Blown Wide Open” fits neatly in the post-alternative world, a gentle apology to an anonymous lover for sweeping past transgressions under the rug only to have them drudged up at the worst moments.

A large draw to In Loving Memory Of is found in its apropos title. Anytime I find myself in the mood for Big Wreck, I’m instantly taken back to 1997 and its autumnal sound. I’m also transported to May 1998, when I was lucky enough to catch Big Wreck live after a thunderstorm threatened to cancel their set. After a long drunk on the bus in the midst of the lengthy delay, Big Wreck came out and proceeded to turn the straggling crowd into a throng of womanly screams and gruff head banging. The band tore through the whole of In Loving Memory Of (as well as debuting “Everything is Fine” which wound up on The Pleasure and the Greed as one of the only reminders of what the band did so well the first time around) without a care beyond entertaining those who stuck it out with them. The crowd was covered in ponchos and makeshift garbage bags but to Big Wreck, we were why the music mattered.

The draw of In Loving Memory Of was in its immediacy. Thornley’s lyrics were uncomplicated, speaking to lost love and sentimentality in a manner similar to everyday life. The lavish and heavy hooks showcases the band’s schooling but its bare-knuckled punch was as blue collar as the blues infused within their arena ready sound. The album is still frozen in time, peacock proud and eager to prove its muscle. It’s not going to spawn a renaissance as so many 90s albums have during the past decade but in those moments when hearts are emphatically pounding in our chests, the gruff anthems of In Loving Memory Of will be there to provide the soundtrack.

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