Twilight Singers: DYNAMITE STEPS

Mon Feb 14 2011

Greg Dulli is still a great songwriter, but he does not have a great singing voice.  This worked out well back in his young, grunge-outsider days in Afghan Whigs, but his recent gravitation towards overproduced, adult-oriented rock serves to highlight his deficiencies.  “Last Night In Town”, the opening track on Twilight Singers' new Dynamite Steps, sounds like a desperate plea to get on a Twilight soundtrack, especially with Dulli’s fractured, hungover yelping; are you telling me that was the best take?  He fluctuates between whiny, shrill and painfully off key.  At his age (45), it might be time to consider retreating to his pal Mark Lanegan’s subterranean vocal range.

It’s not always that bad.  When he doesn’t overreach, his vocals are a fine match for the core of the songs, and he still plays guitar with a fire that occasionally cuts through the lollipop haze of the production, as in scorcher “Waves” and parts of “Blackbird And The Fox”.  But good luck focusing on the positives with all the distracting din that surrounds them.  For instance, the bonus strings and keyboards don’t mesh with the big dumb drumming on “Get Lucky”; this could’ve worked as a spooky minimalist dirge the way it starts out, but by the end it’s so busy it’s completely ineffectual.  Ditto the overwrought histrionics of “On The Corner”, which smacks of Dulli and Lanegan’s similarly pompous Gutter Twins project.  It takes finesse not present here to create a satisfying mixture of orchestra and drum machine.

There’s an actual urgency hiding behind most of these songs, I think.  You can usually make it out for the first thirty seconds or so, before Dulli starts piling on instruments and effects like pizza toppings.  But most of the passion is undermined by a complete lack of subtlety; your average Def Leppard power ballad sounds more sincere, as the constant and inappropriate layering of sounds comes off as a desperate attempt to overcompensate for real songcraft or feeling.  It’s unfortunate; almost every song starts out promising but goes downhill quickly.  Dulli has still got a lot of good ideas; he just keeps drowning them in bad ones.
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