Amber Headlights – Avoid Peril
— Dan Tebo, 10/01/05
It isn’t impossible to comprehend why some folks don’t dig Greg Dulli. Once the great white hope of alternative rock, Dulli has, since the quiet implosion of The Afghan Whigs in 2000, began the second phase of his professional career—that of the cult hero. Still rightfully praised by critics and a frequent co-conspirator with a virtual who’s who of rock n’ roll, Dulli remains alternately loved and reviled by fans and critics alike. The ladies either want to bed him or slap his face, and the dudes who aren’t trying to cop his cooler-than-cool persona want to kick his ass.
The man himself has always seemed rather untouched by all of this. After the Whigs bust-up, Dulli dropped out of sight for a few years before returning with a surprisingly refined Twilight Singers line-up. The “band,” originally a collaboration between Dulli and vocalists Shawn Smith and Harold Chichester, dropped their sophomore effort, the powerful, shadowy Blackberry Belle in 2003 and have been going strong ever since. The live incarnation of the Twilight is nearly as solid as the Whigs’ and Dulli, ever the instigator, is always at the top of his game during the band’s brazen, two-hour live shows, shit-talking and name dropping all night long.
While The Twilight Singers work on their follow-up to Belle, Dulli has decided to throw his fans a bone with the release of his first solo album, Greg Dulli’s Amber Headlights. Originally intended as his first true follow up to the Whigs’ swan song 1965 (the first TS album was recorded before yet released after 1965), work on Amber Headlights was prematurely discontinued in January of 2002 when Dulli’s long-time pal, filmmaker Ted Demme, collapsed and died of a heart attack. Dulli wouldn’t pick up a guitar again for nearly a year, abandoning the bulk of the nine songs on Headlights.
It isn’t well known to many what Dulli was up to between 2000 and 2003, but judging from Amber Headlights, it’s safe to assume that he was up to no good. If 1965 was the gloriously debauched sound of Dulli and Co. out for a night on the town, Amber Headlights sounds like Dulli still going at it at 5 AM the next morning with a mountain of blow in front of him.
The album starts off on the right foot with the throbbing, balls-out groove “So Tight.” Dulli’s unmistakable voice spits fire over a nasty guitar riff: “It’s FRIDAY!!!/I’m LONELY!!!/Pockets flowing girl I’m set to pop!” Sounds like a good time’s about to get going on, right? Soon, however, Dulli’s all up in your face, ranting and raving like a madman. The tracks “Cigarettes” and “Black Swan” are the most Whigs-y thing he’s attempted for a while, yet both tracks lack the production values that made those old Whigs albums such a richly cinematic listening experience. Here, the guitars are pushed up way too high and Dulli (as well as any recognizable hook) is lost in mix. “Domani” has been available for several years already (on the Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair EP) and “Golden Boy” is straight-up filler.
Eventually, the night must come to an end. Dulli wakes up the next day all kinds of depressed and emotional. “Wicked,” then, is the complete antithesis of “So Tight.” Over a shuffling beat, Dulli exhaustedly calls himself out for flirting with darkness yet again, before dragging himself to the piano for the groggy “Get the Wheel,” the last track recorded for this project.
According to the Amber Headlights liner notes (penned by Dulli himself), this disc is intended as a snapshot of a time in his life more than a proper album. While there are a few memorable moments here (and it sure sounds like it was a heckuva night!), it’s reassuring to know that Dulli eventually got his feet back on the ground and got back to the business of making great music and pissing people off.