Only recently have I realized that I’m experiencing a mid-20s breakdown. I didn’t realize it was so common until it was chronicled in Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, which I recently read. Coming out of a structured environment, such as higher education, and feeling somewhat nostalgic for my youth and simpler times, it’s perfectly normal to sob like a baby and (in my case) play my old Afghan Whigs albums endlessly.
Fortunately for me, Greg Dulli comes through at the right time with Blackberry Belle, the second album from his once side-project, now full time recording outfit, The Twilight Singers. Unlike 2000’s self-titled debut, Blackberry Belle is strictly a Dulli effort, thankfully missing the electronic elements that marred the first album. Joining Dulli on the album’s 11 tracks are a host of Los Angeles friends, musicians, and of course Mark Lanegan on the album’s redemptive closing track, “Number Nine.”
Blackberry Belle finds Dulli returning to his roots, his strengths, and writing some of the most gut-wrenching songs about love, life, and death since Afghan Whigs’ classic Black Love. The first half of the album is quite strong from the opening piano on “Martin Eden” to the ode to youthful impulse “Teenage Wristband,” with the great chorus line: “Do you wanna go for a ride? I’ve got 16 hours to burn and I’m gonna stay up all night.”
The album’s second half doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the first. Without the input of others to keep him grounded, Dulli tends to revert to his usual arsenal of cliché lyrics concerning “mamas,” “nights,” and “parties.” Tracks like “Fat City” are mere excuses for Dulli to run his Dulli-isms over and they sort of ruin what started as a great string of tracks.
Overall, Blackberry Belle is certainly a much anticipated return for fans of the Whigs. Look past the clichés and you’ll find an enjoyable collection of honest music from one of rock’s last true believers.
1. Martin Eden
2. Esta Noche
3. Teenage Wristband
4. St. Gregory
5. The Killer
6. Decatur St.
8. Follow You Down
10. Fat City (Slight Return)
11. Number Nine