SIDE PROJECT from The Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli, featuring Fila Brasilia and Pigeonhed’s Shawn Smith
BACK IN 1997, Greg Dulli was in the worst shape of his life. Afghan Whigs had just split from WEA amid much poisonous feeling. Cruelly parallel to that, he’d also broken up with a girlfriend of several years’ standing. He took time out, and went down to New Orleans with old friend Harold Chichester (Howlin’ Maggie) and Shawn Smith (Pigeonhed), with a view to recording a solo album fed by the dark vibes of the place. Unfortunately, the experience nearly killed him. Ravaged by a stomach complaint, curled up inside a bottle of bourbon and refusing to come out, by the end of the recording sessions he was a complete mess, shivering under a blanket in the studio. He’d romantically half-convinced himself that he was destined to give up his body and soul to the Voodoo Town. The semi-complete recordings were shelved, Dulli returned to Seattle and to hospital, eventually recovering the will to live.
Earlier this year, having heard and been impressed by the work of remixers Fila Brasilia, Dulli ventured over to their studio in the rather more prosaic urban confines of Hull and completed work on the Twilight Singers project, finally retrieving the album from the fire.
Twilight… sees Dulli sink further into the coalblack of his traditional preoccupations – love and loss, sex and death, self-indulgence and self-loathing. The opener, ‘The Twilight Kid’, feels like internal bleeding, Dulli lamenting his lost partner. ‘King Only’ (written on a bar napkin while watching blind pianist Henry Butter), flanked by a mockingly cacophonous, funereal New Orlean brass section, is similarly acrid with regret.
Yet in the midst of all this, Dulli, so to speak, keeps his pecker up. In spite of the sombre violins that lend most of these songs the air of the catacombs, there’s an incorrigible, undeniable and still-smouldering sexuality here. ‘Clyde’ is an ironic paean to his strutting tomcat ‘Anna Mae’ a bristling, wet-dream, power pop outing, while ‘Verti-Marte’ is shot through with subliminal girlish chatter, like a summer romance fondly recalled on the deathbed.
What’s new here is the skeletal, eviscerated feel of the album, the range of colours brought by Smith and Chichester’s vocals, the judicious sonic touches of Fila Brasilia, such as the broody, minimal piano that runs spine-like through ‘Love’, which makes this a fine alternative to, if not an improvement upon, the sensually wrought guitar assault of the Whigs.
The album concludes full circle with ‘Twilight’, and a tentative optimism, as Dulli echoes Bob Marley’s “Everything’s gonna be all right” refrain like a man whistling in the dark.
But finally, Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers cheats death, rises up through the entire gamut of emotional shades to provide a fine soundtrack for fireside romance.
© David Stubbs, Uncut, November 2000