Looking up from the gutter…


The Gutter Twins
Saturnalia
Sub Pop
Released: 3.4.08

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

It’s usually in my head long after I’ve played it once: The song, “All Misery/Flowers.” It sort of takes a bite out of you; the grit that Mark Lanegan exudes could smooth out a rural thoroughfare. He is the embodiment of “wear n’ tear,” poetically carrying himself on his own romantically weary and dust covered shoulders. The grit is what keeps The Gutter Twins, collaborative journey between Lanegan and Afghan Whig, Greg Dulli, authentic and safe from the dangers of sounding overwrought.

It took me more than a couple listens to really appreciate the dark and emotional territory with which 90% of this album is based. It sounds cathartic, like Saturanlia exists solely to exorcise personal demons or at least lay them to rest. A song like “All Misery/Flowers,” for example, says more with its mood then it does with its lyrics and conveys the sort of pain that most people hope to unload with therapy or yoga. Lanegan seems based in this pain, hopelessly wounded and falsely protected by tattered bandages. You hope he sheds some of it, but he never shows signs of being ready to release his woe. Maybe he needs it.



Not to harp on one song, Saturnalia deserves, at the very least, a month’s worth of listening, a conclusion that I conveniently came to having listened to it myself for about that long. Starting off with “The Stations,” Saturnalia’s dark and sorrowful tonality quickly envelopes the listener, all those crucial, emotional embellishments firmly in place (string section, ghostly back-up vocals, lonely guitar strings…etc.).

In addition to its mood, with songs like Dulli’s counterpart to “The Stations,” a desperate little tune called, “God’s Children,” the prominence of God as focal point emerges. The light and high-noted questioning of “Who Will Lead Us” (”Crawl, we'll crawl no more/I think that chariot is coming/And should it please you Lord/I'll give this trumpet up/Give it up to Gabriel — Who'll lead us now Lord/Who'll hear the sound of grieving”) and the bluesy “Seven
Stories Underground” (”Oh, Heaven…It's quite a climb/It's quite a climb”) both seems to speak of personal and spiritual uncertainty. For Lanegan and Dulli, their overt religious and spiritual focus either speaks to a loss of direction through a lack of Godly intervention, or it speaks to a lack of answered prayers.

“Idle Hands,” one of the few actual rockers on the album, provides a one-time and momentary break from all the introspection before “Circle The Fringes,” a Dulli testimonial, brings us to the aforementioned “Who Will Lead Us” and “Seven Stories Underground.”

“I Was In Love With You” lapses into a “Dear Prudence”-inspired bridge amidst some fuzz guitar and classical strings. It’s actually ridiculous how Paul McCartney this song sounds at points, really Jiffy-popping Saturnalia’s otherwise morose mission statement.

In terms of highs and lows, and I hate to dissect a team effort, Dulli fails to outshine Lanegan. There are instances where it feels like Dulli tries to out-passion Lanegan, “The Body” (very lovely voice work from Martina Topley-Bird of Tricky fame), for instance, comes off more like a “who can hit these notes with the most striking clarity?” Even in “Idle Hands,” Dulli’s overdone treble does its best to obscure Lanegan’s croon. Lanegan’s moments are definitely the winners.

The last two songs, a Radiohead wannabe called, “Each To Each” and an uninteresting whiner of a song called, “Front Street,” rob the album of a good ending. The preceding track, “Bete Noir,” would’ve provided a better climax. With something this emotionally invested, sometimes it’s best to end it sooner than usual.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead
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