Blackberry Belle – Stylus
Reviewed by: Lisa Oliver
Shh…come close for a secret. That saying, as you get older, you get wiser? It’s bullshit. The truth is you know less. The more things you experience and feel, the more confused things are. And that fucking adage ringing in your ears of older and wiser only makes it worse. It should really be the older you get, the more of a loser you become. Wait. Actually no. You do learn one thing. The only thing you know is that you will never really know. The moment you figure things out, your life will change in a split second.
Searching, loss and redemption are all explored in gloriously rich detail by Greg Dulli, singer/songwriter leader of the seminally stylistic Afghan Whigs, and his new music collective, The Twilight Singers. Started originally as a hiatus project, it’s now a full-time job since the remaining Whigs decided to get all domestic and break-up.
Sounding fresher and more at home than ever, Dulli slips on the crooner smoking jacket as naturally as Hef slips on a boob-jobbed blonde. I always thought it was pulsing wah-wah reverb guitar that made the Whigs sound so Whigs-like. After hearing this, for the Twilight Singers, the defining instrument is obviously the drums. Front and centre in the mix, they create a distinctive opulent sound. Opening with a deceptively melodic to-and fro keyboard waltz ‘Martin Eden’ invites us into a blacked out dirge suicide party and the dark arts joyride that is ‘Blackberry Belle’ doesn’t let up from there. Springsteen circa Asbury Park-era piano opening on ‘Teenage Wristband’ lets Dulli wrap his legs round a female driver’s velvet rims to embark on a journey to anywhere but here. In fact, a lot of this is reminiscent of 1970s Boss with its snap of horns and crisp breezy keyboards. Plus, it uses the same two central metaphors: cars = freedom and a woman has the ability to both lock down your soul, as well as set it free. The difference is that Dulli lacks Springsteen’s over-arching sense of hopeful hopelessness. For Dulli, no matter where you are, you are still where you don’t want to be.
The three-song cluster of ‘The Killer’, ‘Decatur St.’ and ‘Papillon’ form the guts of this album. A throbbing heartbeat bass kicks off ‘The Killer’, while guitar fuzz veers and crashes like a drunk driver, which then seeps into ‘Decatur St.’s rock-soul-hybrid salute to “the saviour of misbehaviour” only to have all that masculine bravado rip open to reveal a broken vulnerability represented by the delicately flushed acoustic melody of ‘Papillion’, probably the closest thing to a true love song here. But since its Dulli-penned, the idea of falling in love is described as being “infected”. Finally, ‘Number Nine’ majestically ends this body of work. Dulli’s leather-soft tenor, Mark Lanegan’s (of Screaming Trees fame) burnt baritone and Petra Hayden’s arc-angel siren weave together a glided tapestry of the Devil, booze and turning your final card on life number nine.
In truth, if you don’t like Greg Dulli, especially late-era Whigs Dulli, you probably will not like this. The level of deep red sexual self-loathing Dulli displays here makes ‘Gentlemen’ feel like a child’s birthday party. But he is all the better for it. For what is so enjoyable about this is seeing Dulli come into his own, and make a vitally valid contribution to music. Still, if you don’t want to take an intense, scary journey into the pitch-black soul of one fucked-up rocker, then there is nothing to see here. But if you want to experience the real life twists and turns that make a complicated person become flesh and blood before your eyes, look no further because redemption has come. And it’s beautiful.