Before you even open the disc or listen to a single second of the album, The Gutter Twins' debut release Saturnalia speaks to you through its striking album cover. The cover is a photo showing classic urban prairie, an abandoned lot between two shotgun houses, where the greenery only grows as weeds between the cracks of a neglected sidewalk and life seems to have gone underground. Two chairs sit in the center of the photo, and behind that, a dark, cloudy sky looms over the scenery and reflects off a dead tree.
Yet, there's something alive about the album cover. It draws you in and forces you to face the realities of humanity, and that life is not always beautiful and serene.
It's been a while since I've seen an album cover so succinctly describe the mood and tone of the music on the album itself. Even the two chairs — which are probably empty because the two members of The Gutter Twins are off recording this excellent album — speak of something profound. Is it abandonment? Poverty? A political message, possibly conjuring the images of destruction in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? Who knows...
Fortunately, the album cover is only one small aspect of why this album moves me. The Gutter Twins have created music that, at every listen, reveals some minor nuance I missed the time before. It's an emotionally and musically complex album, and one of the best to come out this year (so far).
The Gutter Twins are composed of two former '90's music powerhouses — Mark Lanegan of the Screaming Trees and Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs — and, I have to admit, I was initially skeptical that this combination would work. While I enjoyed The Afghan Whigs back in the day, I was never a fan of the Screaming Trees, and these two lead singers seemed worlds apart to me.
However, Saturnalia shows that these two musicians are a perfect match. While the album moves through many different styles and genres, it remains a unified collection of songs that speak to many different emotions and situations. Plus, it's a musically strong collection that flows from track to track, and hints at what's to come on future releases.
Saturnalia kicks off with "The Stations," a great starting point for this album, as it seems to summarize the mood of the entire album. Dulli and Lanegan share writing credits and vocals for this song; on most of the other songs, Dulli and Lanegan have split up the song writing and recording. "The Stations" captures an airy atmosphere through its reverberating guitars and backing strings, suggesting a maturity in sound as these two grunge masters have grown up. Lanegan sings of a blended religiosity and hope for the future ("I hear the rapture's coming / They say he'll be here soon / Right now there's demons crawling all around my room"), but he also sings of confusion ("Don't know what they mean").