It’s funny, as you get older, how some things start to become a bit more palatable. Initially foul tasting things like olives and whisky eventually turn into two of life’s greatest assets when you finally get through the pain barrier.
Greg Dulli is another such example for this reviewer. As a teen, his cryptic melodramatics and black attire used to suspiciously smell of ‘faux’angst’ but - most of all - I could not stand his voice. Sporadically searing and powerful, occasionally plain off key and slightly jarring, it’s something that has taken me several years to get my head around and learn to start loving. A more sensible man would probably play to his strengths and not even think to attempt the odd bit of falsetto, but I’ve come to realise that it’s precisely these broken notes, open-hearted lyrics and raw qualities that have become so endearing over the past months.
Often the nature of these vocals and Dulli's frame of mind at the time of writing set both tone and quality. When he’s angry, the record that follows is more often than not pretty tasty. His work with Mark Lanegan has seen great results, with the two complimenting and feeding off each other well. Here he is left to his own devices, returning to his once-upon-a-time side project The Twilight Singers after a break of five years with generally highly results... ie, he’s probably pissed off again.
When Dynamite Steps is good, it’s really quite exceptional. ‘Waves’ encapsulates everything that is still so exciting about a bunch of people picking up some electrified instruments and playing some notes very loudly indeed. It broods for a minute, explodes into life and never contemplates outstaying its welcome, driven along by some pleasingly raw backing and Dulli’s ability to match the pacing with some simple phrases alongside, such as "You and I could go anywhere / Cut your losses and I’ll meet you there".
Opener ‘Last Night in Town’ is also pretty ambitious when the fractured awkwardness of the singing subsides. As Dulli proclaims "Get in liiiiiinnnnnneeeeeeee" over the top of the soaring guitar and insistent repetitive piano notes, it’s one of those all too rare moments where everything comes together with such perfection that you feel like your feet might leave the floor (Note: it’s fucking great to walk to and pretend you’re super-cool).
The title track takes a while to assert itself but is magnificent when it does; ‘On the Corner’ has a wonderfully self-indulgent guitar solo at its heart, whereas ‘The Beginning of the End’, which precedes it, states its intent from the off with some powerful ethereal backing on a Rhodes keyboard. It’s one of those moments that so many rock artists between the late Eighties and late Nineties were - and in some cases still are - just so good at nailing; that perfect mix of dissonance, loudness, fragility, feedback and gravely tone.
Whilst everything was penned by the former Whigs frontman, he does have a bit of high profile help too as is now customary on these Twilight Singers’ releases. Ani DiFranco duets with Dulli on ‘Blackbird and the Fox’, Petra Haden lends some soulful backing to the glorious ‘Never Seen no Devil’, fellow Gutter Twin Lanegan guests on the more atmospheric, mid-paced ‘Be Invited’ and Nick McCabe is allegedly in there somewhere too according to the sleeve notes. Still, no record is perfect, right?
The difficult thing to summarise is where it stands in the grand scheme of Dulli’s output in general, especially as I’m a latter day convert. It’s undoubtedly a real grower of a record, all too easy to dismiss on first listen with few moments that leap out and really demand attention. It lacks some of the gravitas that we saw The Gutter Twins displaying recently, or that instantaneous hook that the Whigs’ could pull out of the bag when at their finest. And a couple of the slower, mid paced numbers teeter dangerously on the precipice of naffness, ‘Get Lucky’, in particular, being a track which mesmerizes one day and can’t end soon enough on another.
As a collection of songs and sentiments there is a nagging sense that Dulli is revisiting old haunts. Yet it feels reassuring, as Dynamite Steps continues the resurgent course he’s been treading in recent years.
7Sean Thomas's Score