So here we have the much-anticipated collaboration between Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs/The Twilight Singers fame and Mark Lanegan of Queens of the Stone Age/Screaming Trees fame (as well as an excellent solo career along with collaborations with Isobel Campbell). The Gutter Twins, as this duo refer to themselves, have been a rumored project for several years now that finally culminates with this release via Sub Pop. Both men have distinctive voices and other assorted idiosyncrasies, which seem to perpetually follow their individual moves and musical endeavors. Saturnalia is the product of several years of on again and off again collaborative effort. The album also has quite a bit to live up to with so much anticipation begging the question, "does it deliver?"
The deep pounding of the bass drum lends a saucy air to the opening track "All Misery/ Flowers"; Lanegan's whiskey soaked voice makes for a seedy sound as the piano and Dulli's background vocals color the song with desperate tinges that are only enhanced by the squealing noises that dot the soundscape. The bluesy number, "Bete Noir" (translated literally it is "Black Beast") is more than aptly named as this perfectly describes the sound and mood of the track; with its heavy reliance on an organ and the wails of a guitar for accents "Bete Noir" is one example of just what The Gutter Twins are capable of producing. "Circle the Fringes" is a highlight on Saturnalia for me; Dulli's more delicate vocal sits well amongst the crying strings and prominent bass sounds that give off a very real sense of regret, particularly when Lanegan joins Dulli, while the drums aid in keeping the song on an even pace and inflecting the song with just the right amount of explosiveness. The subtle menace that can be heard dripping in "Front Street" is not just disquieting but is also enticing in a guilty pleasure type manner; the acoustic guitar that serves as the foundation for the moody organ and string arrangement that back these two with their voices sounding full of vagabond wisdom. "Idle Hands" truly gives me the impression of sleaze with the raunchy noise and the rumbling voice of Lanegan booming out over an almost perceivable rock and roll feel. Dulli's voice only adds to the feeling of the track when the both of them simultaneously call out "You are the devil's play thing
Saturnalia is completely entertaining with the alternating gruff, ballsy bellow of Lanegan providing a great counterpoint to the almost sneering sounds that Dulli provides - their vocal pairing is actually pretty great. The music itself is an exercise in blues mixed with orchestrated and electronic elements, which works pretty well in holding its own versus the presence of The Gutter Twins two vocalists. Having never been a huge fan of Greg Dulli's other musical work, I was a bit skeptical of this record; but honestly, I am impressed by how good it is and its regular presence in my listening rotation of late. On a different note, I am equally impressed that the vinyl version contains a coupon to download the MP3s of Saturnalia; it is another plus in my book and am glad that the band did so.