Twilight Singers - She Loves You
One Little Indian Records.
If you've talked to me at all on these forums, you'll know what a huge Afghan Whigs fan I am. I'd go as far as to say they're my favourite band ever. So, this Twilight Singers album was a huge event for me - and not just because Greg Dulli, lead singer and driving force of The Afghan Whigs, is also the lead singer and driving force behind The Twilight Singers.
No, this album was a major event for me because it's a covers album. That might not mean much - covers albums usually suck horribly - but The Afghan Whigs were notorious for awesome cover versions. From TLC's 'Creep', to Hole's 'Miss World', to Prince's 'When Doves Cry', to Outkast's 'Hey Ya!', to New Order's 'Regret'. Unlike many bands, whose cover songs either show a lack of ambition or writer's block, and are never a patch on the original, The Afghan Whigs always managed to find their muse in other people's songs. Their covers easily stand up to their originals, perhaps by virtue of Greg Dulli's unique voice, and approach to music. His voice pitches itself somewhere between Mark Lanegan and Marvin Gaye - meaning that any R&B or soul songs he covered were immediately lent a moody, dark depth, and any rock songs he covered manifested themselves as smoky soul songs. It gives him an edge and helps him make any song he touches his own.
The tracklist for She Loves You, when announced, intrigued the hell out of me. To be honest, I was expecting mainly soul songs with a few rockier numbers, but a few choices were way out there. Marvin Gaye's 'Please Stay (Once You Go Away)' and Billie Holiday's 'Strange Fruit' were obvious choices - but Bjork's 'Hyperballad'? John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme'? Even the Gershwin brother's 'Summertime' seems an oddball cut. You can't accuse The Twilight Singers of coasting here, which alone elevates this over many covers albums.
The Twilight Singers originated as a side-project away from The Afghan Whigs, but have now become Dulli's main focus of attention in the wake of the Whigs' split. The rest of the members of the group essentially operate on a revolving-door policy, much in the same way Josh Homme's Desert Sessions does. Perhaps not surprising, then, that Mark Lanegan features so heavily here. The remainder of the cast list here is made up by session players.
Feeling Of Gaze - 4/5
Originally by Hope Sandoval. A beautifully written and beautifully realised acoustic song, and a great way to open up proceedings, even if it's not quite representative of what's to follow. Dulli remains restrained, though the minimal backing means this is exactly what the song needs. I'll be honest and admit I know nothing about Hope Sandoval, but on the strength of the lyrics here, I need to check her out.
Too Tough To Die - 4/5
Originally by Martina Topley-Bird. Let's be honest - no review is really complete without somebody comparing a song to the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack. Well, think of the slums in Midgar, and you're somewhere near this song. This song suits Dulli almost perfectly - the swagger, effortless soul, and braggadoccio are all present and correct, as they are in a lot of his best material.
Hyperballad - 2/5
Originally by Bjork. This is quite obviously the album's biggest mis-step. The original is simply one of the greatest love songs ever written - passionate, idiosyncractic, and haunting. This version doesn't capture any of that. Removing Bjork's electronic glitches and washes, this version is played by a typical rock ensemble, and they just don't capture the power that the song should have, choosing instead to tranform it into a sweeping soft rock anthem. We're talking the Dawson's Creek soundtrack here, and that is NOT GOOD. Dulli's vocals are still good, but this is the album's definitie low point.
Strange Fruit - 5/5
Originally by Billie Holiday. When I heard the tracklisting for this album, this was without doubt the song I was looking forward to hearing the most. Fittingly, Dulli takes the album's biggest risk here. The original song was written as a vicious, spiteful dissection of the racism in Southern America, and the song helped revolutionize America's attitudes towards blacks. Dulli, here, turns it into a song about sex. It sounds utterly disrespectful and heinous, but it works. It really does. It walks a line between doomy atmospheres and sexual overtones that links it directly to Massive Attack's 'Mezzanine'; again, if you know me, you'll know how much of a compliment that is. Whereas Billie Holiday sang of a mutated corpse swinging from a tree, Dulli makes the lyric a vivid picture of two human bodies entwined in orgasm.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes, and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.....yeah!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
It takes a special kind of artist to realise the dual meaning those lyrics could have, and it takes a brave man to follow through on the idea. And to top it all off, there's a pretty good guitar solo.
What Makes You Think You're The One - 4/5
Originally by Fleetwood Mac. If you've heard the original, you'll know that this is one of Lindsey Buckingham's great unhinged pop songs. The vocals on that version are jumpy and nervous, and the music follows suit. Dulli ignores that and gives this the same treatement he gives "Hyperballad" - but here, it works a treat. It's both easier to listen to than Buckingham's reading, and more effective.
Real Love - 4.5/5
Originally by Mary J Blige. Yes, that's right, Mary J Blige. The music here can't be faulted (it's certainly an improvement on the overly basic original), but Dulli can. In a perverse way, it feels like he's paying the original a little too much respect. You can hear how his singing here is modelled on Blige's, so I assume he's sticking very closely to the original melody. But here, you want him to soar, and to really get his teeth into the song. He never does, choosing to remain restrained. It's still a great song, beautifully written and performed with a melodic tenderness Dulli's often accused of lacking, but it's prevented from getting full marks because it could be improved, and when you're listening to it, that crosses your mind. Still, a great performance of a great song.
Hard Time Killing Floor - 3/5
Originally by Chris Thomas King. Also featuring Mark Lanegan on vocals, this song retains the bluesy country quality of the original. It stands out by virtue of the style, and for the effect created by having Dulli in one ear and Lanegan in the other, but not for the song, which is ordinary when compared to what surrounds it on this album. A bad choice for this album, basically.
A Love Supreme - 4/5
Originally by John Coltrane. The vocals here merely repeat the title (as they do in Part 1 of the Coltrane album), over a suitably jazzy, soulful backing that doesn't deviate too far from Coltrane's original, instrumentation aside. On the album, it acts purely as an intro into Please Stay (Once You Go Away), and does the job very well.
Please Stay (Once You Go Away) - 5/5
Originally by Marvin Gaye. Marvin always seemed the most obvious choice for Dulli to cover, and here he proves why it seemed such a good idea. This could easily have been an Afghan Whigs song, with the Blame Etc. style wah-drenched soul guitar licks (which always remind of Stevie Wonder), and the subtle piano ala What Jail Is Like. It's not easy to surpass a Marvin Gaye original, but here Dulli just about manages it, perhaps by giving a little more obvious a structure to the song. A definite highlight, and among Dulli's finest achievements.
Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair - 4.5/5
A traditional song, most famously recorded by Nina Simone. Built over a simple minor-key piano groove and an archetypal soul bassline, Dulli weaves this tale of blind love. His voice gets very hoarse on this song as he goes for the high notes, which is an acquired taste, but it doesn't bother me. As the song progresses, more instruments are added and the atmosphere builds and builds to a fever pitch. This will possibly the best song on the album for a lot of people - however, to account for the fact that some will find Dulli's voice annoying here, I've knocked off half a mark.
Summertime - 4.5/5
Originally by George & Ira Gershwin, and covered by many people, perhaps most famously Miles Davis on his Porgy & Bess album. Here, the Twilight Singers totally flip the script on the backing, reducing the song to a plaintive acoustic guitar and a cello, with a piano joining later on. The melody remains much the same, though in the new setting it takes on a new personality. As a Gershwin fan, and a Twlight Singers fan, this version fascinates me. A stunning way to close the album.
While this album doesn't quite
deliver on the promise shown by earlier covers, this is still an album well worth having. Essential for fans of both the Twilight Singers and the Afghan Whigs, a top quality diversion for rock and soul fans, and if nothing else, an intriguing curio for everyone else.
Within The Genre - 4.5/5
Outside The Genre - 3.5/5