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Powder Burns – Rock Midgets

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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

2 Responses to “Powder Burns – Rock Midgets”
  1. stjames says:

    Having only the pleasure of hearing “Forty Dollars” and “Bonnie Brea” to this writing- I can not opine to Powder Burns brilliance. Although, as a fan, I trust it to be stunning as you state.

    However, to discount Amber Headlights as dissappointing only shows that you missed the point. No effort was made to hide the fact that these songs were “unfinished.” And to state Greg’s “lack of effort” is nearly an insult. Dissappointing and frustrating? Not to the true fan who can see past the lack of polish and to the heart of the songs.

    I appreciate the look into the elements of the songs and their use on Headlights as well as cuts on Blackberry Belle.

    So, to balance the scales I say, “Thank you, Greg, for the effort and the oppportunity to see brilliance in the making.”

  2. twilite kid says:

    I agree Amber Headlights is an amazing record. Although I do recall reading that Greg said that the songs on the record were the finished product, and that he wouldn’t release them if they weren’t. I too think that guy completely missed the point. To be fair though, Headlights only struck a chord with me after repeated listens, but when it did, it really did. Powder burns is also killer. The only gripe I have is with the new touring guitarist. I hope he can live up to skibic (spelling?). Will have to wait and see! Oh and stjames wait until you here “I Wish I Was” for the first time. It’s so good it hurts. 🙂

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