By The Twilight Singers
So you start off as a crazy youth with point blank attitude and more guts than sense. You play in stupid venues and say yes to everything and anything, including a name to die with: "Afghan Whigs". Hmm. Somehow you get to make a string of albums and people more or less pay you to stay alive long enough to tour them round Cincinnati, Hoboken, Hamburg and bits of Canada. You fall out with more friends than you've got and suddenly its ten years later and your almost-famous band doesn't want to work any more. Nirvana ran off with all the money and Mudhoney got all the credibility.
You stumble and flutter. You do producing and playing on other people's things. You have side projects going. And it's another six years gone. Everyone knows you've got talent.
You know you've got a lot still to say. So here you go again. Greg Dulli's off on another European tour with a band of mercenaries and a second, highly-rated "Twilight Singers" CD to sell. Glasgow King Tuts, Manchester Hop and Grape, Nottingham Rescue Rooms. The names say more than they should. I notice that February 1st is free, and Leeds isn't in the schedule. Yet.
But how does this stuff sound in 2004?
The most gripping part is the voice. It's rich, resonant, confiding. It sings words that are worth singing, about a life that's been lived. Maybe some of it wasn't worth living. But if you haven't heard him sing, it's more than worth the special effort. Dulli's voice is deeper and darker than the current hopefuls - the Jeff Kleins and the Ben Kwellers. It's more natural and convincing than the stadium level peers in Counting Crows and Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It's still screwed up though, so there's plenty to go at.
There's a gentleness in the performances - no glitchy experiments or sonic surprises. But the songs stand up well and each one gets some artful spice in the mix from some very astute musical buddies. It's close enough to the mainstream to get wide attention, and it's knowing enough about what the experimenters have done to pull in some interesting noises that sound a little scary in a slightly familiar sort of way. It's almost Daniel Lanois, but Dulli isn't one for overstatement or ostentation.
The album does contain a glorious old-fashioned country-boy big American Cheeseburger Rock Song with pedal steel and film score/Presidential Election scale choruses (with sleazeball lyrics to make it Clinton-authorised). It's called "Number Nine" and it closes the album on a blinding high. It builds from a very deep voiced, alt-country lament in the slow slow intro, cruising into the lift of "come on boy, don't be such a baby" and down the road of a thousand great American dreams: from punch-drunk outlaw to King of the West. It closes with Petra Haden doing some wonderfully desolate distant blues hollering.
Above all this album is unaffectedly, truly American. from a banjo on "Papillon" to the fluent and regular use of the word "gonna" in confident assertion of a thousand new futures that can't be worse than any of the bleak pasts. It's quality stuff.