Greg Dulli--the pudgy-faced alt-rock lothario of the mid-'90s--has teamed up with Will Ferrell look-alike and former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan to form The Gutter Twins, whose first album blends roots rock and blues with histrionic goth trappings. It all results in an underwhelming debut.
The problem is the lack of dynamic songwriting, paired with a tired rehashing of territory that's been mined before--and better--by the likes of Tom Waits and Nick Cave. There's lots of spidery, sustained guitar-noodling, ringing organ tones and vibrating feedback, but none of the tracks distinguish themselves, despite superficial differences.
The dominant sound on Saturnalia is a driving, monotonous drone accompanied by caterwauling vocals, as found on "God's Children," "Idle Hands" and "The Stations." Phrases like "devil's plaything" and "lovers to break" get bandied about with references to pills, heaven and suicide. Ominous backing vocals and string arrangements add to the album's spook-house ambiance, but it's all so humorlessly earnest that it becomes boring.
Lanegan's vocal style sounds dated, recalling Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder more than his own come-hither croak from the Trees' one radio hit, "Nearly Lost You." And though I was once begrudgingly charmed by Dulli's self-important swagger during his stint with the Afghan Whigs, it appears he's lost his own sleazy appeal.
Saturnalia's lesson: Beware of former frontmen from the doomed "grunge era," especially when they come in pairs. And now that we know, beware if there's ever a new Temple of the Dog album.