Amber Headlights – TransformOnline
By Dave Schutz
Dulli’s missing link.
Even though Amber Headlights was released as a Greg Dulli album, any distinctions are too minor to place this outside The Twilight Singers’ catalog. From that point of view, Amber Headlights – recorded less than a year after the demise of The Afghan Whigs – is essentially the proper Twilight Singers debut, given that its sound and cast of musicians resembles that of following efforts much more than the true debut, Twilight.
That said, Amber Headlights is vital piece of the puzzle, especially in light of the fact that it almost didn’t see the light of day. Dulli shelved the project indefinitely following the death of his close friend, film director Ted Demme, citing that the celebratory feel of the record didn’t jibe with his feelings at the time. Understandable enough, as well as apparent on “Cigarettes,” which, along with “Get the Wheel,” was reworked into “Follow You Down” for Blackberry Belle. Though “Get the Wheel” is actually more somber than its eventual result, it exudes more confidence than the emotionally confused “Follow You Down,” forming a perfect reprise to “Cigarettes” which releases from a tense verse into a chorus that soars like a blend of Blackberry Belle’s “Teenage Wristband” and “Decatur St.”
Other tunes fit more with The Afghan Whigs vibe (Dulli, in fact, used parts on Amber Headlights that were written for the Whigs), especially the sweet and jangly “Golden Boy,” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place toward the end of Black Love (it probably would’ve been a better place for ex-Whig bassist John Curley to show his stuff. He showed up instead on “Pussywillow,” which is not a particularly strong track).“So Tight” and “Early Today (and Later That Night)” follow suit, the former kicking off the album with 1965’s party vibe and the latter taking all of Gentlemen’s evil and compressing it into a riffy, wah-driven, and ultimately frightening ball centered around the line “used to feel love, now I wanna hurt you / real bad, real slow / things have changed / I thought you’d like to know.”
Production-wise, Amber Headlights isn’t as hi-fi as the stuff Dulli’s done since, but it does embody the adventurous instrumentation and multiple layers on which he’s hung his hat. And though it’s not as strong as the two albums it sits between on the timeline, 1965 and Blackberry Belle, the spirit and sense of continuity offered by Amber Headlights makes it an album worth checking out.