Thursday, September 17, 2009

#105. 'I love the ground on which she stands'

The Twilight Singers "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair"

The Afghan Whigs are probably my favorite band of the 1990s, so when Greg Dulli's post-Whigs project started up I was pretty excited. It was pretty much an obligation to at least give them a try given my fondness for all things Dulli. I don't know what it was, but something about the band's debut album just didn't work for me, I wasn't expecting a continuation of the Whigs' sound or anything but it still struck me as just a little bit boring at first. I grew into it, but my initial impression of the Twilight Singers project wasn't exactly good. The elements were there fore sure, but the execution wasn't.

Luckily, the two pre-release singles for 2004's much better Blackberry Belle were more than enough to put be back on Dulli's side. "Teenage Wristband" was the actual single off BB, but as far as that single goes it was the erstwhile b-side "The Killer" that captured my heart more. As stirring and anthemic as "Wristband" was it couldn't match the suffocating darkness of "Killer." Neither of those could match the other single they released around the same time though, a way below the radar 7" led off by a Dulli-ized interpretation of "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair." Not only did it continue the long tradition of Dulli's bands making covers so steeped in their particular style that they ceased to be covers and became extensions of the band's universe. All of Dulli's bands seem to have a facility with cover songs in pretty much every genre. Dulli's reinterpretations of Motown standards on the Whigs Uptown Avondale EP might stand as my favorite all covers release of all time, but the various bootlegs of both of his bands that I've collected over the years shows that he's just as comfortable interpolating modern r 'n' b, gangsta rap, eighties pop and jazz standards into his set lists. "Black Is the Color" is one of a long line of this type of thing, but it's the best example of how the Twilight Singers sound completely overhauling a song that's been done almost to death and revitalizing it.

The most common thing that Dulli does with a reinterpretation is to hook on to the sadness at the core of the song. Think about the Whigs version of The Supremes' "Come See About Me" and you'll get what I'm talking's not that Dulli purposely makes happy songs into depressive ones but more that he hooks into the core emotion as opposed to the surface one. "Black Is the Color" is a love song on the surface, but the thing that the Twilight Singers version emphasizes is the desperate longing at its core. Hell, at times the longing crosses over into obsessive/borderline stalker tones, adding a few more layers to what has long been a fairly simple to interpret song. It probably helps that the incarnation of the band on display here was the perfect mix of Twilight's soul pop ensemble sound and the later albums' intense, dark moodiness. The progression of the instrumental track here from simple, almost traditional soul instrumentation to an even darker, more intense version of Afghan Whigs' dark soul-rock hybrid underpins the utter desperation of Dulli's vocals perfectly. It's another example of how an effective build up can be used to push a song into different realms than it would normally inhabit, but really it's a matter of necessity for the song to move into those realms the way Dulli sings it.

Coming up tomorrow: The fake Fugees make an on-the-nose masterpiece.

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