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‘Idle Hands’ and the Hammer of the Gods : NPR Music

‘Idle Hands’ and the Hammer of the Gods : NPR Music
Back in the ’90s, few alt-rock frontmen built personas as macho and brawl-ready as Screaming Trees’ Mark Lanegan and Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli. They seemed to have stepped out of a Mickey Spillane novel as much as indie-rock, but on records they made after their respective bands dissolved, both men toned down both their pose and their music. Now that they’re working together as The Gutter Twins, however, they’ve forged a new hammer of the gods for themselves, to enthralling effect.

The reverberating, echo-driven chant that opens “Idle Hands” — from the first Gutter Twins album, Saturnalia — sounds as if it were written to rev up a stadium crowd. From there, it shifts into a metallic stomp, complete with swooping strings and Lanegan’s dark-lord delivery, complete with elliptical references to suffering, “cold lips,” and “the devil’s plaything” that hint at sex, death, and masochism.

The results could have been cheesy, if not embarrassing — the sound of grown men with a Dungeons & Dragons obsession. But just as in the old days, Lanegan and Dulli are so inherently earnest that “Idle Hands” becomes a pulpy hard-rock classic. After years of exploring the gentler side of their art (Lanegan on his solo albums and a disc with Isobel Campbell, Dulli with The Twilight Singers), they realize that there’s nothing wrong with tapping back — temporarily, at least — into one’s inner, tormented teen.

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