Blackberry Belle – Stay Fun
Apparently nothing is definite in the world of The Twilight Singers, and the band will continue to exist as an ever-changing group of musicians that will come together to play out the whims and dramas of Greg Dulli, as and whenever is necessary. Well, let’s all give thanks, because as much as I loved the Afghan Whigs and still feel a slight twinge of excitement when I hear that he still exists and is making music, the debut release by The Twilight Singers left a lot to be desired. It was one of those albums which you never want to say was bad, but as much as you try to like it, it is never memorable. Sure, it was nice enough in parts, but when you are used to dealing with the Afghan Whigs, it’s difficult to let go of your expectations of greatness. The one saving grace for Twilight As Played by the Twilight Singers was knowing that it was recorded as a semi-self-indulgent side project before the Whigs died rather than as a replacement.
There is no such safety net for Blackberry Belle to land on, however, and even though it is still quite a low-key release, those who still share affection for the music of Dulli will be hoping for something special. Whether the album can live up to that weight of pressure is going to take more than a few listens to find an answer. The good news is that the early signals are pointing to something positive.
In essence, Blackberry Belle is the natural progression onwards from the final Afghan Whigs release 1965. It’s noticeably subdued compared to a classic like Black Love, but this isn’t an issue as such. What makes this album a relevant and exciting experience in parts is knowing that it can and does burst to life whenever you least expect it. There’s nothing quite like that sensation when a song reaches a chorus and there is such a mammoth dynamic lift that has the guitars ringing out in harmony, horns blowing, and Dulli picks up the volume and lets out a wail rather than a whisper such as you find on ‘Decatur St.’. That’s where the real passion lies, and with a secret weapon like that waiting to be unleashed on you, it’s difficult to have any counter argument. It was the lack of this weapon which caused such disappointment in the original experiment, so it’s wonderful news that it has been restored.
From the softness of ‘Follow You Down’ to the heavier parts of ‘The Killer’, there are some sparkling ingredients holding the story together. The pianos, layered guitars, female backing vocals, and blasts of horns all combine to act like a greeting from a long lost friend. A welcome meeting it may well be, but it remains too early to discover whether the only thing we have in common is the past, or if this is a whole new love affair about to blossom. All that I am sure of for now is that this collection is at least capable of sitting proudly on the shelf alongside the Afghan Whigs’ back catalogue, and that I am just grateful the fire still burns deep in the belly of Dulli.