Review Summary: A Screaming Tree and an Afghan Whig make sweet musical love.
Say what you like about Greg Dulli's music, but you've got to at least give him credit for one thing; he's very good at naming things. Gentlemen
, a concept album about a man who was anything but, was undoubtedly lent an extra edge by a title that suggested that all men were, at heart, just like the album's confused, abusive, self-destructive protagonist. Black Love
's dual meaning was perfect for the music within - not only were the songs stories of dark-hearted, film-noir style lust, but they were performed over music that revealed just deep The Afghan Whigs' appreciation of black music went. And then, of course, they basically wrote a Motown album and named it 1965
, the year when the label was at its commercial peak.
That careful consideration of the first impression a name can make has continued since the Whigs split. The seemingly innocently named Twilight Singers heralded a move away from the hyper-sexed Dulli of the past (however slight that move was at times), a move which seemed to reach a logical conclusion on "I'm Ready", the crucial track on his last offering Powder Burns
(an album largely about cocaine). On that track, the man who's written some of the greatest anti-love songs ever sang, seemingly without irony, 'I'm ready to love somebody', before launching headfirst into an earnest rendition of "She Loves You" by The Beatles. A new Dulli? A sensitive Dulli? I can't have been the only fan more than a little disappointed.
So thank the Lord that his new band are called The Gutter Twins. A name that instantly lets you know what's going down - it's going to be dark, it's going to be sexy, it's going to be dangerous. That's more like it!
The Gutter Twins are a collaborative effort between Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan, he of Screaming Trees/Isobel Campbell/Queens of the Stone Age/'the grunge Tom Waits' fame. This isn't the first time they've been paired up - the original concept for The Twilight Singers was to unite the voices of Dulli, Lanegan, and Brad's under-rated Shawn Smith, and Lanegan has contributed vocals to a handful of Twilight Singers tracks since. Predictably, they've been labelled a 'grunge supergroup', which in itself is remarkable - if you consider all the dead people, and discard the efforts of artists who've lost all their credibility by lazily reuniting and releasing sub par albums, just how many good grunge artists are left? When Scott Stapp and Silverchair begin to look like serious answers to that question, you know things are bad.
Don't mistake this for a grunge album though. For a start, it's simply too sexy. Both Dulli and Lanegan have plied their trade for years off the back of their barely-veiled sexuality, and that played a large part in distinguishing their respective bands from every other grunge band in the first place. Dulli's effortlessly cool braggadocio was the kind of foreplay every man wishes they were capable of, while Lanegan's naturally gravelly, intimate voice sometimes sounds like he's whispering sweet, powerful nothings even when he's singing a song as patently un-sexy as "Strange Fruit". It wouldn't surprise in the slightest if, deep down, these two men each wished they were more like the other. And yet, for whatever reason, Saturnalia
seems sexy almost in spite of itself. The music is suitably dark and sultry, sure, but the abstracted lyrics and the mixing of the two voices (and subsequent weakening of the impact of either) mean that the signals get a little crossed over somewhere in the mix.
Secondly, there's too many sonic diversions that wouldn't have worked on a grunge album proper. "The Body" and "Front Street" are acoustic numbers that are murky yet uncharacteristically pretty, the excellent "Circle The Fringes" offers up mournful, exotic strings and a fretless bass, and "Each To Each" plays with some of the ideas left over from Dulli's excursions into trip-hop with Fila Brazilia and DJ Muggs. Still, if "Idle Hands" had been released at the height of grunge, people would still be listening to it today - it's a brilliant song no matter how you slice it, forced forward by a glammy riff that sticks out like a sore thumb amidst everything else here. It's not hard to imagine that this track was bashed out in a rehearsal while every other was carefully written in the studio - it's just that much more immediate than anything else here. The remaining 11 tracks surrounding it require more patience and curiosity on the part of the listener, yet the swampy, lacivious charms of each one reveal themselves in time.
If there's a flaw to Saturnalia
, it's that anybody who's been a fan of these two artists for any period of time will know that this could have been better than it is. Certainly both have conjured better music seperately, and their voices have been combined to better effect on previous recordings. Even so, this represents a new territory for both Dulli and Lanegan, and it's one that they (generally) excel in. The excitement about this collaboration will probably cause people to exclaim that it's their best album since Black Love
. It's not - it's just their best since She Loves You
/Ballad of the Broken Seas
- but even so it's still another notch on the bedpost for two artists who have both quietly and determinedly built up a seriously impressive back catalogue.