Rockin’ on, despite it all
Greg Dulli makes a reflective return to his roots on ‘Powder Burns’
BY GLENN GAMBOA
Newsday Staff Writer
Greg Dulli has embraced his inner rocker again.
Though his band The Twilight Singers started as a decidedly less-rocking electronic group in 2000, over the years the former front man of the Afghan Whigs has slowly been sliding toward the gritty, soul-steeped indie rock that made that band one of the most revered acts of the ’90s. The new album, “Powder Burns” (One Little Indian), roars like vintage Whigs in places, while incorporating the sweeping, almost cinematic quality of The Twilight Singers’ early work.
“The first album was a reaction to the Whigs,” Dulli said, calling from his home in Los Angeles. “After that, I had to reconcile my twin interests.”
Dulli has always focused on seeming dichotomies – illuminating the brutal side of love, cataloguing the guilt that gets entwined with desire. And he carries on that tradition on “Powder Burns,” which he completed in post-Katrina New Orleans, under military curfews, with no running water and questionable electricity.
“It made it more difficult, but it became a monument to our steadfastness,” Dulli said, adding that he had already put in more than 18 months of work into the album, recording some tracks in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Italy, as well as New Orleans. “We finished it as a sort of — you to the hurricane.
“I have never seen destruction like that,” he continued. “Trees had drowned. There were no birds, no dogs or cats. It was a ghost town, ‘Mad Max’ kind of desolation. Apocalyptic, really. The city was devastated, and it was all kind of sad, but there was also this real, indomitable spirit. There was joy. In the middle of all this tragedy, I really did see a lot of goodness, too.”
Those feelings seeped into “Powder Burns,” which was already packed with the emotions of Dulli kicking a drug addiction and dealing with the death of his friend, director Ted Demme. “After seeing what I saw,” he said, pausing to recall the devastation he witnessed firsthand, “it had to affect the feeling of the record.”
Each song on “Powder Burns” has a different vocal approach, making it sound like different characters are singing, Dulli said. He sounds lecherous and creepy on “Forty Dollars,” as he sings “Love don’t mean a thing but 2 a.m. and a telephone ring” before corrupting the Beatles’ “She Loves You.” He sounds regret-filled on the spare, haunting “The Conversation,” especially against the angelic harmonies of Joseph Arthur. And it’s no accident that the album’s most ferocious rocker is called “Underneath the Waves.”
In addition to the rockers from “Powder Burns,” Dulli plans to throw a few Whigs classics into the set at Irving Plaza tonight, something he refused to do a few years ago. “They’re my songs,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend I don’t know how most people know me. But there will only be one or two. It’s not like there’s a lack of Twilight Singers material.”