Friday, October 16, 2009

Finding beauty in the grunge - The Gutter Twins "Saturnalia"

I have already posted here (10 September) about the wonderful contribution that Mark Lanegan’s rough and weary voice made to the Soulsavers album, Broken, and today, we meet him again as he joins his longtime buddy, Greg Dulli, as the other half of the Gutter Twins.

The songs here on Saturnalia are bleak and bleary-eyed. They tell hard, rough stories about the dark alleys of life through music that mixes together an unbelievably rich array of instruments – guitars, a mellotron, a cello, a mandolin, a violin, a viola, drums, an organ – whatever is needed to add to the gritty darkness of this music, it’s there.

These instruments come together in different combinations, with the ragged voices of Lanegan and Dulli, to paint incredible subterranean pictures of dark nights and lonely streets crawling with sordid lives of sex, addiction and transient love. It’s all told with the sort of honesty, and the refusal to apologise for its sludgy life in the gutter, which you only find on bar stools in seedy pubs, late at night.

But don’t think for a moment that this music, with all its dark harsh candour, is hard to listen to. It’s incredibly beautiful – voices finding rich harmonies even in their sandpaper roughness; layers of music where every instrument seems to have its own raw and murky story to tell.

Listen to how the lonely, restless melodies come, one by one, into “The Stations”, building a mountain of sound, but heaving and hurling so much that you are afraid to stand on it; or to the way everything cries and pleads for its voice to be heard, against brutal pounding beats, like punctuation marks trying to bring each sentence to a close, in “Circle the Fringes”; or to the dark, ominous beat that just won’t let in any light, no matter how much the melody line strives for it, in “Seven Stories Undergound”; or to the bleak, brooding simplicity of every line of music, assembling like a choir of the homeless and the outcast, and leaving you overwhelmed by the chilling eloquence of their dark but determined promise, “We’re gonna have some fun, son” in the album’s sensational closing track, “Front Street”.

Saturnalia is the star defence witness to any accusation that underground rock is all grunge and no musical creativity or richness. And it is irrefutable proof that even in the gutters, amongst all the muck and mud, the grime and the guts, there is beauty.

Another stunning PBS discovery.

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