When Greg Dulli dismantled the Afghan Whigs after dropping the finest album of their career (1965
), most people figured he'd disappear in a haze of mythology, sleepless nights and veiled King Floyd aspirations. So when he and his Twilight Singers re-emerged two years later, expectations were characteristically high. The synthetic, Fila Brazilia-produced Twilight as Played by...
wasn't the world's greatest coming out party, but its patchy brilliance was enough to convince most fans that Dulli still had more than enough gas left in the tank. Three years and a self-imposed hiatus later, Dulli emerged with the gritty, Stax-infused soul-rock opus Blackberry Belle
, and once again, all seemed right with the world.
She Loves You proves that Dulli is still the baddest white soul brother on the planet, channeling the spirit of (famed Meters producer) Allen Touissaint and Manny Albam as he leads his troops through their furious, funky paces. A covers album, She Loves You's cinematic noir soul is by turns tough, funky and proud, just like so many of the musical visionaries to whom Dulli pays homage here -- titans like John Coltrane, Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye. Few artists could unfurl a haunting, spectral version of Björk's "Hyperballad", then turn around and make Skip James' "Hard Time Killing Floor" sound even more desolate and lonely. Dulli pulls it off handily.
There's a desperation inherent in the songs Dulli chose for She Loves You that provides the album with its thematic thread -- envisioning a forlorn world akin to David Cronenberg's Naked Lunch, but splattered with even more blood, booze and innuendo. You can practically see the morning mist rising off their terse version of "Hyperballad", and the morning-after bitterness of (Fleetwood Mac's) "What Makes You Think You're the One" is brought into focus through a lax-but-spacious arrangement and a tiny splice of "Second Hand News" tacked onto its end. Dulli and Mark Lanegan get sweet and lowdown on the sparse, scudbottom version of "Hard Time Killing Floor", and the ethereal grandeur of "A Love Supreme" and "Black is the Color of My True Love's Hair" are emphasized through their melancholy yet seething arrangements and Dulli's soaring vocals.
On another level, She Loves You plays out like a tribute to Dulli's fallen friend, director Ted Demme -- a loss that hit him like a freight train. From the epic sorrow of "Feeling of Gaze" to the more implicit "Too Tough to Die" and "Please Stay (Once You Go Away)", it's almost as though Dulli is speaking directly to Demme. Of course, the loss of a friend and the end of a love affair are often fraught with similar feelings of pain and longing, and in that regard, it's best to view She Loves You as a million "I miss you"s and "I'm sorry"s wrapped up in a single shimmering, dulcet package.
Triumphs over death and loneliness aside, She Loves You's real triumph is the fact that it sounds like a Twilight Singers record first and a covers collection second -- a feat most of Dulli's contemporaries couldn't duplicate. The subtle balance between slavish retread and reckless reimagining, between coherent construction and mix-tape enthusiasm, is achieved here with textbook quality.