Posted on March 18th, 2011 (12:01 pm) by Joseph Bogen

Greg Dulli is a rare artist who is able to create exceptional works while never demonstrating any real talent or creative vision. He is responsible for two of my favorite albums of all time (Blackberry Belle with the Twilight Singers and Black Love with The Afghan Whigs), but these albums succeed in spite of Dulli’s abilities as a songwriter and a musician, not because of them. Both albums –especially Blackberry Belle, which was recorded as something of a tribute to director Ted Demme who passed away before the recording sessions— succeed because of Dulli’s singular ability to put his emotional turmoil directly onto a recording. I don’t know if I could ever tell you why Blackberry Belle is a great album; musically and lyrically, there’s not much outstanding on there, but it remains more than the sum of its parts and the perfect tribute to a departed friend. Similarly, 2006’s The Powder Burns, which was recorded in the wake of Katrina, is propelled by a sense of loss.

When Greg Dulli’s albums aren’t anchored in misery, they tend to suck. Prime examples can be found in his last two official releases, Saturnalia (his collaboration with Mark Lanegan as The Gutter Twins), and the most recent Twilight Singers EP, A Stitch in Time. The problem is that he doesn’t abandon the dark brooding image--even when it becomes cartoonish. So when I started Dynamite Steps, his latest with the Twilight Singers, I was holding my breath. I had heard the album compared favorably to Blackberry Belle, but I was more worried of another disaster than hopeful for another masterpiece. Unfortunately, it is not the latter, and I’m just glad it wasn’t the former either.

Opening track, “Last Night In Town”, starts the album off with spare piano and vocals and already evokes Blackberry Belle’s opener, “Martin Eden”. But Dulli quickly proves he’s not content to walk over ground he’s already tread. A strong beat kicks in accompanied by atmospheric guitars and electronic pulsing. The song takes off after two minutes, and it never looks back. It doesn’t quite measure up with my favorite Dulli openers, but this may be his most enjoyable opening for an album. When “Be Invited” follows with a simple mid-tempo drumbeat, I start to lower my expectations, but the song manages to develop a seductive groove that carries the day. Or night. Like most of Dulli’s albums, this one feels like it should never be listened to during the daytime.

The album starts off strongly, but things begin to go wrong for me with the third track, “Waves”. It’s easily the album’s heaviest track; after 45 seconds of teasing the listener, it roars to life with guitars that threaten to bury Dulli’s vocals. That’s all great. But eventually the menace of the guitars fade away, and the song becomes almost joyful. It’s not a bad place to take the song, but in the end, the song fails to connect. Unfortunately, this happens often on this album. “Get Lucky” opens as a slow piano-driven number, and despite the addition of a full band to the arrangement, the song never manages to build up much steam.

“On the Corner” manages to inject some life back into the album. It starts with a simple drumbeat and guitar melody and quickly becomes a solid rock song. Like most of Dulli’s best work, I don’t know why it connects. It just does. But these moments are the exception rather than the rule. “Gunshots” and “She Was Stolen” both have powerful arrangements that just fall flat. There’s no one thing wrong with any of these songs, yet none of the elements connect. Somewhere along the way, the songs cross over into dad-rock territory.

What’s disappointing is that there is evidence that Dulli doesn’t need to have a friend die of a heart attack in order to record a good album. The Afghan Wig’s last album, 1965, is a pure joy to listen to, and it’s probably Dulli’s most sunny work. The album’s strongest song, “John the Baptist” seems to be about nothing more than the joys of getting laid. Very little of Dulli’s dark, moody persona touches that album, making it a listening pleasure. Dynamite Steps isn’t a failure, but it’s because on tracks like “Never Seen No Devil”, “The Beginning of the End”, and the opening two tracks, Dulli lets himself have fun. Unfortunately, Dulli seems to have staked his reputation on not being a fun guy, but a moody artist who is almost always photographed with either sunglasses on or cigarettes in his mouth (just do a Google image search). Blackberry Belle wasn’t a masterpiece because Ted Demmme died. It was a masterpiece because Dulli opened up and put himself into making a great album.

Track List:
1. Last Night in Town
2. Be Invited
3. Waves
4. Get Lucky
5. On the Corner
6. Gunshots
7. She Was Stolen
8. Blackbird and the Fox
9. Never Seen No Devil
10. The Beginning of the End
11. Dynamite Steps

the twilight singers
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Our Rating

68 / 100
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