Blackberry Belle – The Writ
By Nicholas Sabin
Have you ever been captivated by an album? I’m not talking about the way that a record, on first listen, sounds like the best thing you’ve heard, nor am I referring to finding one song on one record that you end up listening to for three consecutive hours. I’m talking about an album that pulls you in, ears first, and sustains your attention from start to finish. Blackberry Belle, the second record by the Twilight Singers, is one such album.
It starts easily enough – raindrops of piano, and the smoky call of frontman Greg Dulli’s voice to “black out the windows, it’s party time.” And party time it is, though not in the frat-house, alcohol and white cap sense of the term. This album is a reverie, undercut with fear and hope, joy in the face of sadness, and hard-boiled like so many noirish detective novels. Unlike so many albums which seem to consist of two singles and ten worthless tracks of filler, Blackberry Belle is seamless – everything flows, and smoothly. It’s a disconcerting, but welcome, return to the old days when albums were whole works of art instead of little fragments and pieces of ideas.
As a lyricist, Dulli knows his craft well. He writes beautiful words without the pretentious obscurity lesser bands affect, simple verbal hooks that you hum to yourself after the fact (when he croons “infect me, protect me, she gonna resurrect me” on the banjo-infused “Papillon,” it sounds cheerful, almost jubilant). Each song is like a Polaroid, providing you with just enough detail to fill in the blanks. The sparse lyrics of “Follow You Down” – “if you’re in trouble, then I’ll follow you down / last night, last night was alright / I want to see you again” – tell you only what you need to know, invoking just the right amount of sentiment and leaving you to put the rest together.
It would be impossible to classify Blackberry Belle in the typical terminology used by the musical pedantry – this is an album that rocks in many different ways. This owes in part to the fact that roughly two dozen different musicians, Dulli included, take some part in the record. It’s an album that’s not treated like an album, but instead as a piece of art. Dulli’s film-school past even shows up in the liner notes; this album was not recorded, but instead “shot on location in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Memphis.”
When MTV rose to power in the 90’s, and then later on when the Now! mix compilations showed up in every music store, people focused on the singles, solitary threads of a work that once served the purpose of a tapestry. Napster allowed us to take the songs we wanted – and only the songs we wanted. Doing that to an album like this would be a tremendous disservice, both to the musicians and the listener. Put this album in your stereo, put on some comfortable headphones, and let it take you.