Saturnalia – San Diego CityBeat
Goes well with: Afghan Whigs, Screaming Trees, cigarettes, drinking yourself into oblivion
Rarely has a band name been more appropriate. Saturnalia is a collaboration between two of modern rock’s most notorious substance abusers—Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs) and Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees)—that peers into the dark side of human behavior through the eyes of men who’ve done and seen their share of dirt.
This album could easily have been a retread of each twin’s past glories, but its elegant composition reveals a maturity becoming of two elder grunge statesmen. Lanegan has already proven himself a master of this sort of thing, with Saturnalia’s sound at times simulating a slicker version of his last solo album, Bubblegum. But it’s the presence of Dulli that provides a welcome vocal diversity, as his yearning, mid-range croon is a perfect counterpoint to Lanegan’s trademark smoky baritone.
Surprisingly, Saturnalia is not as indulgent or rocking as one might expect from a pair with this pedigree. In fact, the best material isn’t up-tempo—“Bete Noire” lurches along with an intoxicated organ line, and “Seven Stories Underground” sounds like a spiritual dedicated to alcoholic drifters.
It’s a record obsessed with religious imagery, exploring redemption and the afterlife from the perspectives of the sinners. Sure, there are the requisite lyrics about debauchery and addiction, but there’s also a feeling of regret that hangs over the album, showing that Dulli and Lanegan are growing weary, and more insightful, as they get older.