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.
Theres cool and then theres cool. Mark Lanegan is cool. He was cool fronting the Screaming Trees back in the day. He was cool on each one of his six-or-so solo albums. He was cool as a member of Queens of the Stone Age. For those of you who had the pleasure of seeing QOTSA on the pre-tour for Songs for the Deaf, you saw first hand how cool he was, the way he would run on stage to only sing his parts of the song, and then run offstage again as soon as he was done, as if hed just committed a crime. He out-cooled every damn one in the band, and they even had the Grohl behind the kit, for christs sake.
Greg Dulli has always been cool as well. Cool with the Afghan Whigs, cool with the Twilight Singers and cool with every miscellaneous appearance he ever made, from the debut Foo Fighters album, to the Lo-Fidelity Allstars to the Backbeat soundtrack.
So ultimately, what does collaboration between these two artists mean? You guessed it. One of the coolest albums of the whole damn year.
Saturnalia could very easily have been a sad rehashing of 90s nostalgia even with the talent involved. Thankfully, its more of an open letter wake-up call to the alternative rock musicians of today, that can be summed up succinctly with the subtitle: this is how you do it.
A multi-layered affair, Saturnalia provides true alt-rock that washes over the listener like dilaudid, with each song providing glorious underpinnings of gloom that can only come from that voice. Ah, that voice. Ecclesiastical beliefs aside, there are few vocalists whose abilities transcend to the realm of being from God. Johnny Cashs voice is from God. Diamanda Galás and Yma Sumacs voices are from God. And without a doubt, Mark Lanegans voice is from God.
Lanegans solo work has always been great, and much was made of his collaboration with Isobel Campbell but as one the Twins, he has found in Dulli a true kindred spirit. The yin to his yang. The feminine to his masculine. Their voices mesh beautifully on Bête Noire, a track that could just as easily as been left a cappella and lost none of its appeal. Idle Hands, the most densely populated of all the tracks, could just as easily have been spoiled by the number of cooks in this dangerous kitchen, but instead provide one of the albums many highlights a swirling, sublime number reaching a crescendo with one of the coolest (theres that word again) solos (they still make those?) this poor and portly reviewer has heard in a long time.
Musically, Dulli handles everything from the guitar to the rhodes, to the mellotron and most things in between, with a little help from the likes of Troy Van Leeuwen and producer Mathias Schneeberger. I truly hope The Gutter Twins arent just a one-shot deal because this one of the best albums of the year with its genesis in one of the strongest musical collaborations in recent memory. Dulli and Lanegan teach us all that no matter how good youre perceived on your own, you can still be made great with the augmentation of an ally.
8.3 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
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