The Twilight Singers - "On the Corner" (Dynamite Steps)
Dynamite Steps is the fifth album from the Twilight Singers, and it marks the 10th anniversary of the group — and by “group,” I mean the rotating cast surrounding Greg Dulli, the singer, songwriter, and sole permanent fixture. Five albums is just one less than the Afghan Whigs — Dulli’s previous venerable band — released over the course of its decade-long career. And if you include Dulli’s solo album, Amber Headlights, and his work with Mark Lanegan in the Gutter Twins, the past decade has arguably been the most productive of his career. All of which is to say that this might be a natural time for Dulli to engage in a little career reflection, and on Dynamite Steps it seems as though he has done just that – its 11 songs, whether intentionally or not, surveys his career thus far.
Indeed, there’s a little something for fans of just about every Dulli project here. He duets with Lanegan on “Be Invited,” a dark ballad perfectly in line with anything on the Gutter Twins’ Saturnalia. He then follows that up with a four-song cycle that could have been pulled from any of the Afghan Whigs’ mid-90s albums. “Waves” has the best chorus on the record and proves once again that Dulli may have a limited range as a singer, but he’s most effective when he’s testing the outer edges of it. “Get Lucky” is a slower song, and ostensibly more confessional. The lyrics continue a theme Dulli has employed often throughout his work: A remorseful manipulator who is, himself, deeply fearful of being hurt and manipulated. If it isn’t quite as raw as the classic “My Curse” from the Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen, it’s at the very least a good homage. “On the Corner” and “Gunshots” demonstrate more of a soul influence – “Gunshots” in particular, as it builds a swelling chorus (complete with backing vocals from Joseph Arthur) out of a piano figure and Dulli’s cracking voice. The center of the album, these four songs are among the best that Dulli has written with the Twilight Singers.
The latter half of Dynamite Steps has a quiet, moody collection of songs closer to some of the more stripped-down singer-songwriter work that Dulli has occasionally done with the Twilight Singers. “Blackbird and the Fox,” a duet with Ani DiFranco, comes across as a lyrical counterpoint to “Get Lucky,” less of a confession than a proposition. Two songs later, on “The Beginning of the End,” the song’s narrator is back to scathing self-reflection: “I do what I want to / I calculate,” and “I’m so sad / so keep it coming.” And while these songs proceed at a more stately pace than those on the first half of Dynamite Steps, they seem to be building toward the closing song, also entitled “Dynamite Steps.” It starts slowly — Dulli pretends to be a crooner, a common trait of late — and works its way through a couple of stilted changes in pace before the song settles into his characteristic mid-tempo guitar blast, his voice breaking over and over again as he belts out the lyrics. The song encapsulates what the rest of Dynamite Steps drives home: While Dulli has mined the same vein of pop music for almost 25 years, he has nonetheless accomplished an awful lot with it.