Monday, 10 March 2008

Album reviews - Gutter Twins, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan

who's better - men or women? my girlfriend reckons it's women, but she would say that - after all, she's dead clever. me? i've got an open mind, though the balance of male-to-female in my record collection suggests i might be a bit of a sexist.

one of my favourite men in the whole world is gravel-voiced drug-surviving grunge-crooner mark lanegan. mark has put this men-women idea to the test, by releasing two collaborative albums back-to-back. the first, under the name of the 'gutter twins', pairs him with soul-loving alcohol-surviving grunge-lothario greg dulli (a man). the second, sunday at devil dirt, is his second collaboration with breathy-voiced former belle & sebastian member isobel campbell (a lady, no less). lanegan did another collaboration last year, with a group called soulsavers. i don't know if any of them were hermaphrodites, though.

together, solo, and as part of the screaming trees, queens of the stone age, afghan whigs, twilight singers and belle & sebastian, this trio has made countless albums (well, more than twenty), many of them great, none of them at all bad. in that respect, both of these albums are winners. gutter twins' 'saturnalia' is a dense, dark mess of psychedelic blues riffs and howling, yearning vocals that sounds like a cross between exile on main st. and QOTSA's songs for the deaf. campbell and lanegan's devil dirt is a lighter affair, reprising the countrified sound and the nancy-and-lee dynamics of their debut, ballad of the broken seas. allusive lyrics and the tension between campbell's whispered vocals and lanegan's marlboro-man growl create an undercurrent of danger and mystery that prevents the record slipping into the winsome mode of campbell's solo work and her contributions to B&S' records.

on balance, saturnalia pips it. perhaps this was inevitable - as a male man i prefer noisy guitars and greg dulli hollering "whooarrghhh i'm gonna do sex" to pretty tunes and isobel campbell mumbling on. also, campbell can't quite sing, while dulli really can. but there is also a problem with sunday at devil dirt - it's precisely the same as ballad of the broken seas, without the cracking hank williams cover and the tidy title track that elevated the latter ('the flame that burns' is a half-decent williams pastiche). it attempts to incorporate some of the sparse folk of lanegan's excellent solo covers record, i'll take care of you - but rarely with much conviction. were it presented as a broken seas outtakes collection - like rufus wainwright's patchy want two - it might have worked. in its own right, devil dirt is a pale re-tread. saturnalia, on the other hand, arrives with such high expectations that it could have been a disaster or a disappointment. instead, while it doesn't quite rival lanegan and dulli's finest work - screaming trees' dust or afghan whigs' black love, for instance - it's an inspired pairing that will hopefully yield more records.

i don't know how much this proves, or whether the battle of the sexes has advanced at all as a result. my instinct is that it hasn't. but the accompanying press photos do emphasise an important point: chaps like to be photographed drinking together and frowning, but with a lady you can have a nice baked potato without any difficult questions being asked. how's about some mp3s and links?

gutter twins - 'god's children' (live)

ekko has the full live show - featuring the whole album and some older tracks:

saturnalia - full stream

isobel campbell and mark lanegan - 'come on over (turn me on)' (from sunday at devil dirt)

campbell & lanegan 'rambling man' (careful, though - it's dead rude!)

Ramblin Man
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gutter twins myspace

buy saturnalia

isobel campbell myspace

buy sunday at devil dirt


ekko said...

Great idea for an article. I tend to agree with you, although I haven't heard Devil yet (I'm basing my comment on the prior Isobel/Mark combo). But I thought Devil wasn't out yet?

Ass Hat said...

true, i think it's out in may. but i got nosey and listened to the leak. don't think i'll buy it.