Powder Burns – Rock Midgets
Powder Burns has a lot of ground to make up. After leaving it to sit on the shelf for five years, Greg Dulli finally decided to release the stripped down, sparse Amber Headlights under his own name earlier this year. Overly short and feeling half finished, it left both fans and critics disappointed in the former Afghan Whig. With that frustrating record behind him by mere months, the time has come to release his fourth album under the guise of the Twilight Singers, featuring entirely new material rather than the musical equivalent of old sketches fished out of the bin. Can he redeem himself?
As it turns out, he can; to a degree I didn’t think possible after his previous release. Powder Burns couldn’t be further from its predecessor in just about every way. Whereas …Headlights’ production was spacious and flat, Powder… is dense and claustrophobic; the former’s melodies were ruined by Dulli’s lack of effort, whereas the latter sees him putting his heart and soul into every word; and while …Headlights sounded like it hadn’t evolved an inch since the scratchy demos it came from, Powder Burns features the kind of lush instrumentation which could save almost any song from falling flat.
Nearly two decades into his career, Dulli has produced an album so strong that it makes bands who burn out by their second effort – the Strokes, the Datsuns, and the Stone Roses being the classic example – look pathetic by comparison, especially considering how many of the instruments are being played by him alone. The murky, woozy songs here could well be some of the best of his career. Thundering drums and crashing piano announce the excellent ‘Forty Dollars,’ the best song here, which is no easy task. The multi-tracked vocals of opener ‘I’m Ready’, the Eastern-tinged strings of ‘There’s Been An Accident’ and the epic chorus of the title track all run it close, but in truth just about any song here could be picked out as a flagship single.
The one disadvantage of Powder Burns’ brilliance is that it makes Amber Headlights all the more frustrating. If Greg Dulli is capable of making work as truly beautiful as this, why did he not give the rest of his music the same treatment? Luckily that is all irrelevant to the quality of this record; a great, rewarding album made for listening to in the twilight hours. Do so, and be stunned.
Rating: 5/5 by Gaz Hughes