She Loves You – Pitchfork
-Stephen M. Deusner, September 3rd, 2004
It was all a matter of time: Over the past 18 years– first with The Afghan Whigs and then as The Twilight Singers– Greg Dulli has covered several anthologies’ worth of songs on stage and on singles. Musically, Dulli is omnivorous, devouring everything from Henry Mancini’s “Moon River” to Hole’s “Miss World” to New Order’s “Regret” to Prince’s “When Doves Cry”. A covers album was inevitable.
Reflecting Dulli’s range of interest and influence, She Loves You covers a lot of territory in just 11 songs: R&B, showtunes, classic rock, jazz, blues, soul, and Björk. For some artists, this line-up– which includes songs by Hope Sandoval, John Coltrane, David Holmes & Martina Topley-Bird, Lindsey Buckingham, and Marvin Gaye, among others– might appear too willful and calculated in its range of styles and genres, but Dulli’s precedent-setting live performances and B-sides deflect that criticism. Diversity, however, is never an end in itself, and fortunately, The Twilight Singers evince an understanding of these songs, resulting in some intriguing interpretations. Dimming the lights and spreading them out on satin sheets beneath the mirrored ceiling, Greg Dulli-fies these songs, translating them into his particular brand of dark-end-of-the-street, soul-derived rock and, at his most brazen, altering their meanings.
Unlike the four cover songs on Afghan Whigs’ 1994 EP What Jail Is Like, this is no one-night stand. Rather, She Loves You treats each song differently while still being carefully sequenced so that its tracks cohere into a narrative of love and loss, resulting in a record that manages to sound as if its tracks were the product of one mind. (Although, in fairness, Dulli’s musical mind was itself formed by many of these songs, which prompts a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum). The Dulli who sings the edge-of-the-precipice “Hyperballad”, for example, could be the same one who wrote “Be Sweet” or “Something Hot”.
On Fleetwood Mac’s “What Makes You Think You’re the One”, Dulli loses the original’s regimental march tempo, allowing the song to sprawl and stretch as he mimics Lindsey Buckingham’s slurred vocals. “Too Tough to Die” merges Topley-Bird’s dark Americanisms onto a New Orleans piano shuffle, and on “Real Love”– first recorded by Mary J. Blige– he builds on the jump-rope rhythms of the original, letting a sawing guitar drive the chorus. Elsewhere, the Gershwin Brothers’ classic “Summertime” sounds new, darker. Over a 70s-soundtrack guitar flourish, Dulli sings “hush, little baby, don’t you cry” like a sexual predator, his voice sounding pack-a-day ragged. It’s sinister and not a little unnerving, but he makes it fascinating just the same, mostly because his interpretation doesn’t stray from the original, just re-frames it.
That approach doesn’t necessarily work across the board: Dulli’s biggest misfire on She Loves You is “Strange Fruit”, popularized by Billie Holiday but written by Abel Meeropol, a white, Jewish, Communist schoolteacher. Vividly describing a Southern lynching, it has become canonical, among the first popular songs to address American race relations. Its specific descriptions of seemingly tangential details only add to the inherent horror of its topic, and even Holiday’s version sounds slightly eroticized by the tactile descriptions (“scent of magnolia sweet and fresh”) and the chiaroscuro contrast between that pleasure and sheer pain (“then the sudden smell of burning flesh”).
Dulli and occasional Twilight Singer Mark Lanegan make the sensual lyrics sound desperately sexual: The line “black bodies swaying in the summer breeze” here evokes images of lovers, not corpses, and “the bulging eyes and the twisted mouth” describe the body in orgasm. It’s a brave, if facile, read, completely disregarding political correctness as it plumbs the song for other issues. Dulli goes for obvious horror-show theatrics– lumbering guitar lines, Sturm-und-Drang pace, tortured vocals– which cheapen the song’s devastating metaphor. Simply put, the song looms too large for him; he cannot manage to wrap his persona around its gruesome subject matter and deep history.
While “Strange Fruit” aims for intense psychodrama, Dulli gets more impact out of the simple do-do-do’s on Marvin Gaye’s “Please Stay”, the sadomasochistic subtext of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”, the vertiginous emotions of “Hyperballad”, and the hope in the face of heartache on Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love”. They may not be as ambitious as “Strange Fruit”, but they do remind us why the earth moved for Dulli in the first place.