Blackberry Belle – ModernRock.com
By: James Laczkowski – ModernRock.com
The best songwriters are the ones that defy their influences. Jeff Buckley loved Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Instead of aping them, he integrated them into his world, consuming every crescendo and each bending note. But the one thing that he did which very few artists do was confront his influences, instead of wearing them on his sleeve. Greg Dulli, of The Twilight Singers, does more than challenge his inspirations; he gets in a brawl with them until he comes out bleeding with a shiner. Nobody bleeds like Dulli.
And what better way to get started than with The Twilight Singers latest, Blackberry Belle. Sure if youíre a fan of The Afghan Whigs, then youíve already bought this record. You comprehend Dulli and his objective. Itís more than an amalgam of punk rock and soul music, it is fire and fury with sex and cigarettes thrown in for good measure. It is angelic music sung by the goddamn devil himself, only you can call him Greg. You can proclaim the guy is Marvin Gaye meets Pete Townsend. Go ahead if that keeps you at ease. I have no problem with that. But I am convinced that this guy is one of the most gifted people in rock music today or any day. Why donít people know this yet? Carve it in stone for Godís sake!
Gusto. Raw power. Haunting keyboards. Screaming until it hurts. Dulli here on the new album is a little more subdued than he was with the Whigs, but it is a continuation of the method that he owns as one of the most conventional voices of the past decade. You may hate this style and find no redeeming value in it melodically, but just wait until the day it hits you in the face and you realize that itís magic you are hearing. Dulli canít sing, but he doesnít need to. He just feels every emotion in the book and out comes this sinister snarl with a raspy sensuality that makes you wanna punch walls, have sex, or both. Dulli is the ďIdĒ personified. The guy is harsh without ever looking down on you. In fact as depressed as he can sound, I am convinced that because he writes these kinds of songs, heís looking up and looking forward to confronting more demons. The Afghan Whigs are arguably one of the most important bands of the 90s. Gentlemen and Black Love are full-blown masterpieces that everybody should own because itís dark, brutal, ugly, menacing rock and roll at its most sincere. A guy is pouring his heart and soul out to you, and itís not always pretty. You may want to turn off your ears, but you canít silence the exhilaration that Dulli and these musicians feel. Their music sounds and feels uncontaminated; full of understated wisdom that lingers on into the late hours. Same goes for the offspring that Dulli fronts.
The Twilight Singers present Blackberry Belle, three years after their startling debut that very few paid attention to. Itís time to change all that. The only problem here is that for the first couple of tracks, Blackberry Belle seems watered down in that it takes awhile for Dulli to explode with his trademark off-key vocal lunge, but the fervor never goes astray. The momentum is there inviting you along for the ride track by track. ďMartin EdenĒ is stunning in its announcement to ďBlack out the windows/itís party time.Ē The darkness is inspiring to him. This is one of many melodious, gentle tracks with a declaration to destroy you that display the dichotomy that carries the record. Start off silent, build to a scream. Dulli can be the most reclusive cat in the room, or the loudest, most outgoing party animal that you will ever meet. There is no doubt that he is at his best, when rocking out and ďThe KillerĒ is by far one of the best songs that will cross your path in many a moon. Its pulsating E major chords will elevate you into the heavens for itís Dulli at his most old-school carefree. Itís one of the best examples of hearing a singer let go of himself and not giving a damn.
The fact is, itís all about the album as a unified whole. There are great songs on both The Afghan Whigs and The Twilight Singersí records, but itís when you listen to each album all the way, without interruption that the true craftsmanship begins to shine through. Itís a testament that Dulli and whatever company heís with, concentrate on the cohesiveness of the record and not necessarily individual tracks in order to capture a disposition and stick by their intentions. The confidence that comes across makes them all the more praise-worthy.
By the final song (which features Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan evoking Leonard Cohen), you are destroyed, wasted, and elated. You know the point where you raise your hands in the air on rollercoaster, and open your eyes to realize that youíre in for the adrenaline rush of your life as you slope down at the speed of light? Thatís what itís like listening to The Twilight Singers. Blackberry Belle is a major accomplishment from a truly gifted group of artists, fronted by one of the most wildly hot and bothered singers in the world. Dulli never holds back and the spirit of his eagerness to rock out continues to give him grace. This manís life-force is pulse-pounding, frightening, and rewarding if you give it time and an open mind. As slightly off-key he can be, he still manages to tunefully scream for his sins and desires, and youíre more than welcome to join him.