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Powder Burns – Harmonium

4/5 Stars

At first listen, there’s something unsettlingly carnal about Greg Dulli. He snarls phrases like “I hope I see you out tonight, and I hope we get it on” with all the swaggering machismo of a rocked-out John Wayne, and his unchained sexuality never wanes. If you’re a girl, Dulli’s like the boyfriend you’ll never take home to meet your parents. And if you’re a guy, he’s the friend you’ll never take home to meet your little sister.

But beneath the lusty lyrics and sneering vocals, there’s something undeniably catchy about Dulli’s hedonism. Powder Burns is his first “clean” record, and it’s filled with the singer’s attempt to substitute his recently-kicked drug addiction with less dangerous habits. He’s angry, thankful, sad, ecstatic, satiated, and impossibly horny. It’s a Molotov cocktail of emotions, and The Twilight Singers are more than happy to light the fuse, watch things blow up, and catch the resulting wreckage on tape.

“Toward the Waves” kicks things off with forty-five seconds of calming organ and liquidy drones. If this song represents the calm before the storm – the momentary peace of a drug-free Dulli – then its follow-up, “I’m Ready,” is Dulli’s dive into a new addiction. The song crashes into the soothing “Waves” like a cannonball out of hell, and Dulli immediately launches into a sex-hungry tirade atop buzzing, sweaty guitars and overlapping background vocals. Calling this an orgy of sound is definitely clichéd, but that’s exactly what it is: a multi-voiced, pummeling call-to-action, with an emphasis on the “action” part. “I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready to love somebody,” goes the coolly chaotic chorus. It doesn’t take a Linguistics major to name the type of love that’s being referenced here.

Of course, even the most driven of men can’t keep it up all the time, and Powder Burns has plenty of lighter, reflective moments. “Candy Cane Crawl” mixes acoustic pillow talk with melancholic soul, while “There’s Been An Accident” employs a full orchestra for its brand of spacey rock. “Accident” is also the best track on the album, with Dulli’s voice climbing steadily higher as violins, arena-worthy drums, and ooohs and aaahs build a wall of sound beneath him. “I’m alive… it kinda took me by surprise,” he admits during the second verse, seconds before he launches his voice into the stratosphere and ratchets the song up another notch.

Powder Burns is honest rock ‘n’ roll, both in its depiction of a recovering addict and its tuneful treatment of his replacement habits. The Twilight Singers have a rejuvenated frontman, and they’ve rarely sounded better.

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