Men in Black
Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan tangle with trouble
By Jennifer Maerz
Beyond grunge’s punk bulldozers existed ’90s alt-rock giants Afghan Whigs and the Screaming Trees; they were simpatico with the bombastic angst of the Northwest superstars, but traded rattling sludge for melodic heaviness. In the years since the demise of both acts, Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli and the Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan remain intense brooders whose music continues to try to understand an internal madness neither frontman has been able to shake.
Of the two, Lanegan is the more stoic. In the past few years, he’s emerged spottily from the shadows to release a disc of meth-balladry called Bubblegum; he added gravel and gravitas to Queens of the Stone Age and Isobel Campbell recordings; and he’s collaborated often with Dulli — including work on a Gutter Twins project that will see the light in 2007. Like the original Man in Black, Johnny Cash, Lanegan has a voice that resonates with resolute pain and the power of being your own worst enemy.
For a decade Dulli has funneled stories of self-torture and medication into the Twilight Singers. He is fire to Lanegan’s ice, wailing about his mercurially starved and gorged cravings for destruction. The Singers’ latest disc, Powder Burns, is a narrative of the “fucking drug haze” he has lived under for the past seven years. Recorded in New Orleans amid the worst of Hurricane Katrina, it’s a typical Dulli catharsis — from the open-wound neediness of “I’m Ready for Love” to “Candy Cane Crawl”‘s soft hymn of twisted skies and dark eyes, the album offers multiple affairs with addiction pummeled into memory by Dulli’s impassioned delivery.