Release Date: Mar 4, 2008
Label: Sub Pop
Genres: Rock, Blues
Number Of Tracks: 12
Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli's reputation as bourbon-breathed troublemakers has been well documented by the music press through the years. Not only do they justify their nearly mythical status here, their debut collaborative collection turns out to be a mammoth of an album!
UG Team, on march 12, 2008 3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Sound: Although the Screaming Trees and Afghan Whigs were dissimilar in musical style, both bands shared a brooding quality that has lived in the hearts of their fans years after their respective break-ups. Whether it was the Screaming Trees' psychedelic take on garage rock or the gloomy but sensual R&B-influenced rock of the Afghan Whigs, their records are still talked about with a fervor usually reserved for platinum-selling acts. Greg Dulli, the driving force of the Afghan Whigs was a source of constant debate in critic circles. Many scoffed at his lyrics calling them misogynistic, while Mark Lanegan was painted as a barfly in the tradition of Tom Waits. Now, after years of hinting about forming a proper project together, the two front-men have joined forces to create the Gutter Twins. With these two volatile personas heading up the proceedings, cohesion could have been an issue, but Saturnalia is focused on every level. The songs are fully realized, aided not only by Dulli's muscular guitar rhythms but also by a slew of guests musicians who help fill out the compositions with expert flair. From the opening track, The Stations, clearly influenced by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the album's tone is set by the familiar, funeral-blues vocal licks of Lanegan. Dulli takes over the vocal parts on the next song, God's Children, with it's hypnotic marching tempos and carousel-twirling guitars. This brooder wouldn't have been out of place on one of the Afghan Whigs later records. From there on, the Gutter Twins shell out one Gothic-soul stunner after another. // 9
Lyrics: The thematic tone of the album follows the same themes both musicians have been wrestling with for years. Mortality, regret and penance are towering subjects to take on in the brief span of an album, but they handle it with seasoned grace. Throughout the years, Dulli and Lanegan have crafted the kind of quote-worthy lyrics that critics die for, and Saturnalia certainly keeps this tradition alive. The fractured-twang of All Misery/Flowers includes the dive bomb, The way I burn is a son of a bitch. While Seven Stories Underground brings the observation that, heaven, so fine, heaven, is quite a climb from seven stories underground. Powerful on their own, the words come to life with the gravelly wail of Lanegan and Dulli's '70s soul-informed croons. Their voices shape-shift on every song to fit the style and vibe, never sounding strained or forced. Even when they take on poppier material such as the Beatlesque I Was in Love with You, they never sound out of their element. // 8
Overall Impression: Though Saturnalia is as dreary an album as you'd expect to hear from these liver-damaged souls, there is an air of, dare I say it, spirituality throughout the songs. There is an almost gospel sensibility here that frames the material. From the Hammond organs that evoke the feel of a Baptist revival, to the background vocal arrangements that create a choral effect, it's as if we're listening to their spiritual purging. These assured, reflective and nuanced performances could have only come from road dog veterans like Dulli and Lanegan. Both songwriters are responsible for some of the best songs on alternative-rock radio over the last fifteen years. What they've done here is take a less traditional route. Trusting their musical instincts, they let the mood-rather than a conventional song structure-dictate the direction of each arrangement. Going along with the loose nature of the songs, they have also adapted a kitchen sink production style that suits the unlikely instrumentation they've chosen. Sure, the songs are still anchored by the same guitar-bass-drums set-up the duo have built their careers on, but their brilliant use of mandolins, harmonium and other instruments are a welcome addition to their musical arsenal.
Not only have they opened up their writing to interesting instrumentation, they've also chosen an impressive array of players to bring the parts to life. Martina Topley-Bird, known for her work with Tricky, contributes some thrilling vocals to the sinister sounds of The Body. Critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur appears on Idle Hands lending his haunting tenor to the chorus backing Lanegan. Co-producer Mathias Schneeberger adds his expert touch on a variety of songs with everything from bass guitar to mellotron. His creativity on this album cannot be commended enough. Think of him as the Gutter Twins' George Martin-like mad-scientist gluing everything together. With personalities as unyielding as Lanegan's and Dulli's, he must have had his hands full. // 9
red157, on march 12, 2008 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: If you even have a passing knowledge of who/what the Gutter Twins are, then I have no doubt you are rather anticipating their first release, the full length Saturnalia. For the uneducated, the Gutter Twins are Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli, survivors of the '90s, frontmen of The Screaming Trees and the Afghan Whigs respectively. Since then, both men have moved on through various projects, working with each other previously on The Twilight Singers, Dulli's main band. So for those still unfamiliar with these two geniuses, how best to describe their record? Besides several shades of their own work, Saturnalia manages to sound somewhat like blues shoved through a Radiohead filter. It's unrelentingly dark; melodic pop let loose in a dirty bar and as album opener "The Stations" shows, it's powerful stuff. Dulli is a man who knows what needs to be added to a musical brew in order for it to sound right, the odd violin backing here, pounding drum opening there. Saturnalia is also rather expansive, "Each to Each" is rather different to "God's Children", Lanegan and Dulli being the only constants. The only track that seems truly out of place is "Idle Hands", though I use that term in the nicest way possible. It flits between demonic and epic and remains the most memorable slice of the album. // 10
Lyrics: The word 'suicide' is mentioned a couple of times early on. Now I tell you that not in a judgemental way, just so you can get an idea that this is not a party album (Well, depends on the party really). The lyrics exist purely as a means for Lanegan and Dulli to sing in beautiful harmony, as it sounds fantastic. If it didn't, the whole album would be a failure regardless of how good the actual words were. Last track "Front Street" contains the repeated line "We're going to have some fun, son", sang by these two it hardly implies a leisurely day spent fishing. Of course, I have to focus on my favourite vocalist of all time, Mark Lanegan's voice sounding youthful somehow despite remaining a bastard mix between Waits and Nick Cave. // 9
Overall Impression: I think I may have wrote this review to early. Saturnalia deserves many more listens before I can fully appreciate it and put that appreciation into words. The album is exactly what I was expecting, yet it still surprised me. For Lanegan fans, it's the missing link that some felt was missing on his collaborations with Isobel Campbell and the Soulsavers (I loved both however). For Dulli followers, it'll be welcomingly familiar. The quality is without doubt, the high points are epic and the low points seemingly need just a few more listens. Thanks to songs like the previously mentioned "Front Street" and "Idle Hands" it remains a worthy addition to both artists catalogues. Once it's over you're left seeking more, which I hope will come at some point in the future. So, is it an early contender for best album of the year? Well as related projects go, Saturnalia could face stiff competition the Desert Sessions and the next Masters of Reality record. Though I have no doubt the Gutter Twins debut will make a few end of the year top 10. // 9