When members of two failed bands
of even the smallest notoriety combine forces, all too often they?re labeled a
?supergroup? and set up to meet impossible standards. This cycle seems to be repeating
itself with the Gutter Twins, a collaboration between the frontmen of the
grunge-era bands the Screaming Trees and the Afghan Whigs. While their
contemporaries seemed to find instant success in the early ?90s, Mark Lanegan?s
Screaming Trees and Greg Dulli?s Afghan Whigs never made it out of the starting
gate and achieved only minimal mainstream success. When each band folded at the
decade?s end, Lanegan and Dulli turned their attentions to other projects,
eventually emerging as the Gutter Twins, a term tied to both men?s soiree with
the seedier side of rock during their former bands? existence.?
A record four years in the
making, the finished project of Lanegan and Dulli?s work together is the album Saturnalia.
Proving that their name is not just a facade, the Gutter Twins? Saturnalia is
a gloomy trip to the darkest parts of the human psyche.
The album?s tone is set
immediately with the brooding first track, ?The Stations.?? Fueled by Lanegan?s baritone, the track steps
outside of the grunge framework their previous bands were known for with its well-placed
use of a string section.
Saturnalia?s second track, ?God?s Children,? gives listeners their
first taste of Dulli fulfilling the dual role of songwriter and lead vocalist.
While the song?s tempo picks up some from the first track, it remains rooted
toward the slower end of the spectrum, keeping the album?s gloomy subconscious
Track No. 3, ?All
Misery/Flowers,? is the first of a handful of appearances by former
Troy Van Leeuwen. While the song succeeds musically, it is hindered by poor
lyrics such as, ?Little girls might twitch at the way I itch/ But when I burn
it?s a son of a bitch.?
Sounding almost operatic, the
track ?Idle Hands? most resembles the grunge sound the Gutter Twins? frontmen
are known for. Immediately following it, though, is Saturnalia?s finest
moment, the bass-driven tune ?Circle The Fringes.? Starting off slow and quiet,
?Circle The Fringes? is a sonic punch to the head after it breaks the
From there, Saturnalia moves
along at a typical pace. ?Seven Stories Underground? finds Lanegan using his
voice to paint a musical landscape brought to life with the song?s subdued
backing music. Similar to Lanegan?s vocal work on the
of the Stone Age song ?Hangin? Tree,? ?Seven Stories Underground? is a perfect
example of the less-is-more aesthetic.
Stepping the most outside their
musical norms, the Gutter Twins employ grunge-era hero Natasha Shneider and her
synthesizer?s beats on Saturnalia?s eleventh tune, ?Each To Each.? While
by no means a bad song, ?Each To Each? doesn?t exactly ebb with the rest of the
album?s tracks and would?ve sounded better as a contribution to the next
Handsome Boy Modeling School record.
Despite the fact that the Gutter
Twins? Saturnalia was recorded in two different locations with dozens of
different studio musicians, it never loses its rainy-day music feel. From
beginning to end, the latest outing by grunge alums Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli
is as solid a record as one can expect from people who have been in the music
business for close to two decades. If the Gutter Twins must be labeled as a
?supergroup,? then they are certainly on par with, if not better than, fellow ?90s
supergroups Audioslave, Velvet Revolver and Army of Anyone. In the end, the
Gutter Twins prove that while it is unrealistic to expect a masterpiece from
the latest incarnation of a ?supergroup,? it does not mean they cannot produce
an exceptional debut album like Saturnalia.
4 stars out of 5