“Whenever you’re here, you’re alive/ The Devil says you can do what you like.” A familiar sentiment that greets us warmly upon our first listen of Dynamite Steps, the new album from The Twilight Singers. It’s been 5 years since Greg Dulli and his cohorts released their peak, the stunning Powder Burns. That album was a typically sinister look at the collapse of New Orleans seen through the eyes of one last bender. Over twenty years, Dulli has cultivated the image of neo-soul mysoginist, of a crooner trapped in a rocker’s body. And Dynamite Steps does nothing to change that, but in the best way possible.
With Dynamite Steps, the muse remains the same for Dulli: dark tales of lost nights, lost love, and lost chances. The lush arrangements and the dark subject matter are par for the course for Dulli. The interesting part is always how he puts it all together. In a recent interview, Dulli stated that he made the album to be heard as one piece. And, after having digested the album, I can understand why.
Opener “The Last Night in Town” is an atypical start to the album. All slow burn and catharsis, which features a nice falsetto turn from Dulli. It must be said that from the start, Dulli sounds in great voice. Having recently quit smoking, its easy to hear the richness in the vocals. “Be Invited” is a string drenched burner, built around a simple acoustic guitar figure. The track is a winner, and represents the fact that Dulli no longer has to scream to get his point across. “Waves” find us in thrash mode, with the guitars turned up to 11. After the steamy opening tracks that preceded it, “Waves” makes the listener raise up and say “Where the hell did that come from?” “Get Lucky”, built around a nice piano figure, finds us back in the swamp. Dulli croons, “And tell me does it scare you when I look the other way/And through the walls into your very soul?”, and you can almost feel the breath in your face. Lead single “On the Corner” follows, and we are treated to a cathartic, piano driven rocker. This track perfectly summarizes why some people don’t like the Twilight Singers, and why some people adore them.
“Gunshots” is a swinging roller, that more than holds its own compared to the tracks that are before it. “She Was Stolen” follows, and is perhaps the best track on the album. An “almost ballad” that again features Dulli’s bittersweet falsetto, the track weaves and moans, slowly rising to it’s finish. It also features the theme of the album in “Expectations swallow me” a sentiment we can all feel. Ani Difranco turns up on “Blackbird and the Fox”, which is again built on a simple guitar figure. The two alt legends weave their voices together in a sweet, yet dark track about loss and heartache. “Never Seen No Devil” begins with a harmonica moan, and a dobro figure. It builds and crescendos with “If you do unto others/You will die by your own hand.” “The Beginning of the End” could be another single, with its lush arrangement and memorable chorus. In this latter half of the album, the tempos are so similar but the melodies varied. We reach catharsis with “Dynamite Steps”. The title track is another (shocking, I know) slow burner. Dulli recites the tale of wandering and loss, through the lens only which he can see.
Dynamite Steps is what we have come to expect from the Twilight Singers. Truth be told, their aren’t many artists who can bridge the gap between their present and past so seamlessly. Dulli never has sounded so vital as he does here. After cleaning up before the remarkable Powder Burns, following that up with the incredible Gutter Twins album with Mark Lanegan, and now Dynamite Steps; Dulli is on his greatest winning streak since the Afghan Whigs disbanded. The album sways and moves in ways we haven’t seen since 1998’s 1965. Dynamite Steps sits comfortably in his canon, and that is perhaps the perfect compliment.