Review Summary: Though "Dust" remains Screaming Trees' true swansong, it's surely a treat to hear "Last Words". Aside from being a great collection of tunes, it allows fans to catch a glimpse of the last few pages in the history of the band being written.
Screaming Trees' history is one of some misfortune. A greatly and diversely talented band (relying on axeman Gary Lee Conner's vast armour around his fretboard, namely his wah guitar chops and his ability to switch between electric and acoustic effortlessly, and Mark Lanegan's baritone, seductive vocals) who just never achieved the recognition they clearly deserved. Though integrated in the great Seattle grunge scene of the late 80's and 90's, Screaming Trees were a lot different than a lot of its counterparts and friends such as Skin Yard, Soundgarden and Mudhoney, to name a few. While many of the other Seattle bands incorporated punk's furious raw sound and anti-corporate DIY ethic, as well as metal's dissonant harmonies and sludgy fuzz-laden guitars, the Trees had in a way a style of its own. Combining elements of 60's psychedelia, 70's rock and 80's punk, the band created a unique and now iconic sound. However, besides a hit single in "Nearly Lost You", the Conner brothers' band never achieved the fame or exposure they deserved. However, they remain one of the most celebrated and praised underground rock acts of the 90's, they're one of those hidden gems that are simply a joy to find.
The release of Dust
in 1996 turned out to be an important moment for Screaming Trees' history and future. The album itself put on display all of the band's enormous talent, creating a haunting atmosphere no other Trees album had managed to achieve. Possibly the band's best album ever, sometimes a bit less focused on heaviness and more focused on creating a somber yet beautiful ambience, it did wonders to the band's sound by adding an amazing diversity that probably lacked in past releases. After excellent critical reception but lackluster sales, and after shopping demos around in hope that a record label would offer them a contract, they decided to call it a day and go separate ways. The hopes of ever hearing a follow up to the superb record Dust
had now vanished. However, in 2011 it was announced that the unreleased album the band recorded in 1999, right before disbanding, would finally be available to the public. While it wouldn't be appropriate to call it a proper follow up, it's surely an excellent treat for fans to be able to hear Screaming Trees' Last Words: The Final Recordings
The opening guitar riff of the first track "Ash Gray Sunday" quickly assures all fans that Screaming Trees' distinctive sound remains intact. The song itself echoes the influence of the band's last album, as Mark Lanegan takes center stage and delivers a memorable performance, thanks to the fitting imagery he conveys over his words and his soft voice. Topped by a memorable chorus, every member sounds perfect here (you really couldn't guess the turmoil that was surrounding the band at the time) as "Ash Gray Sunday" deserves a spot as one of Trees' finest and most underappreciated tunes. The opener delivers precisely what the album sometimes lacks, which is a presence of truly great and memorable songs. While during the band's creative best releases such as Sweet Oblivion
or Buzz Factory
delivered plenty of individual highlights, the "unreleased" record seems to work a lot better as an entire unit rather than having a handful of tracks of higher replay value.
Last Words: The Final Recordings
is considerably softer and more focused on acoustic passages than most of Screaming Trees' catalog. It remains heavily in the band's typical style, but it relies more on atmosphere than a lot of other grunge bands of the period. While it's a nice addition to the Trees' sound and it resonates Dust
from time to time in that aspect, said use of acoustic instrumentation can become repetitive after a few listens. That's a problem that affects songs such as "Tomorrow Never Changes" or "Low Life", though the former remains a pleasant listen but it is simply not such a memorable moment in the album. However, the more moody sound of the album provides excellent results in "Reflections", for example, which showcases a nice balance between Mark Lanegan and Gary Lee Conner. Last Words
truly hits the bright spots in passages such as the aforementioned opener or "Revelator", which has one of the most memorable choruses in the band's discography. The same happens in the unusually upbeat and strong "Door Into Summer".
Overall, the band's "unreleased" album can be a bit tricky to look at. Seen as only one entity it can be quite a pleasant experience. However if one wants to pick out solely individual songs, there may not be plenty to choose. It's also tough to integrate it in Screaming Trees' discography. Though it resembles its antecessor, there's no doubt that Dust
was the band's true swansong (that becomes more obvious just by looking at the amount of time that separates the two records). However, all history aside, as an album Last Words: The Final Recordings
is pretty great. It almost encapsulates all of the band's history and sonic evolution in one listen. After all, the psychedelic trippy "Crawlspace" could easily date back to albums such as Even If And Especially When
, while a bunch of other numbers here take inspiration from the band's latter days. Even if, after the Trees' breakup in 2000, a lot of time passed and every member moved on to other projects, the albums they've made and the legacy they've built (often sadly overlooked) remain alive.