THE TWILIGHT SINGERS Powder Burns (One Little Indian)

I haven’t heard anything from Greg Dulli since the last album by his former (and future, apparently, with an imminent reformation in prospect) band The Afghan Whigs, “1965”, was released back in the last millennium. Since then he’s devoted his energies to both a solo career and the Twilight Singers project, of which “Powder Burns” is the fourth album. Thanks to Kev, by the way, who offered up the album as one of his regular Rocksig Yahoo group giveaways, and without whom I wouldn’t’ve heard what could’ve been one of the finest albums of the year.

The Twilight Singers don’t sound staggeringly different to The Afghan Whigs, albeit with an even greater sense of precision-drilled accuracy: there are moments, for example “There’s Been An Accident”, that sound like a cankered U2, and the momentous, epic “Underneath The Waves” is stadium rock in all but the lowest common denominator platitudes. So why don’t Twilight Singers albums shift in precious metal-plated millions? Well, Dulli is a prickly bundle of moral ambiguity at best, and although in interviews he’s quick to correct the misconception that he’s a misogynist by explaining that he’s actually a misanthropist, “Powder Burns” is laced with enough gender-specific unpleasantness to suggest he’ll never be a Bono.

It’s that acrid, sexist whiff that despoils “Powder Burns”, lending a sulphurous, vengeful edge to his declaration “I’m ready to love somebody” on “I’m Ready” – he doesn’t exactly sound flushed with the improbable marvel of romance, put it that way – or the blank transaction of “Forty Dollars”, in which he corrupts The Beatles’ glorious “She loves you/Yeah yeah yeah”, making it seem, well, grubby. Less specifically offensive is the steel- and string-coddled warmth of “The Conversation”, which just about distracts attention from lines like “I travelled through the ether on the blood of my enemies”, and it’s during the title track’s magnificently orchestrated caterwaul that it becomes apparent (well, to me at least) that the powder in question isn’t being stockpiled for some kinda Guy Fawkes-referencing pyrotechnic display. In perhaps the album’s most inventive moment, the track reaches a string coda styled on early Michael Nyman that cedes to the ominous sound of lapping waves. Finally, “I Wish I Was” sounds eerily reminiscent of Mark Eitzel’s magnificent jazz-tinged solo debut “60 Watt Silver Lining”, wisps of trumpet curling around the lounge bar.

Musically, then, “Powder Burns” is a delight, stomping with conviction as often as it unsettles. It’s a shame that Dulli’s continued lyrical preoccupations seem determined to undermine all that good work.

Afghan Whigs