The Twilight Singers, ‘Blackberry Belle’ (Birdman)
First line of Blackberry Belle, Greg Dulli’s latest dose of pimped-out, bipolar catharsis: “Black out the windows /It’s party time.” By Dulli’s standards, this means everything’s peachy. For more than a decade — first with his band the Afghan Whigs, then with the more-or-less-solo Twilight Singers — Dulli’s M.O. has been pretty much the same: sex, drugs, emotional terrorism, guilt, redemption, repeat. He’s one part pagan Anne Rice vampire and one part Catholic Graham Greene hero, and he writes killer songs, too, swiping all the right moves from ’80s indie rock and ’70s R&B.
Blackberry Belle abandons the coffeehouse trip-hop affectations of the Twilight Singers’ debut; many of the glistening rock songs here wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Whigs’ awesome swan song, 1965. “Teenage Wristband” slyly quotes the hook and the keyboard line from the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” although the tone– especially when Dulli’s object of affection asks him, “You wanna go for a ride?” — is closer to a speed-addled remake of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
But it’s the quieter moments, peppered with funeral-parlor humor, that really resonate. The autobiographical “St. Gregory” (“I heard your woman left you / I heard you quit your band”) and the lilting one-two punch of “Papillon” and “Follow You Down” hit like barbiturates and wine. On “Fat City (Slight Return),” he asks himself, “Why you watch a car wreck, motherfucker?” then blankly replies, “‘Cuz it looks fun to die.” It’s best to think of Dulli as a tour guide through the parts of the human experience most of us would prefer to avoid — the crashes, the come-downs, the mornings after. “I think we’re lost,” he mutters at one point, only to reassure us: “Don’t worry — I’ve been here before.”