Greg Dulli’s Amber Headlights
Two years ago, right about this time of year, during a late fall dark and bleak, I saw the Twilight Singers for the first time. The first cold had just set in and my heart was newly healing, stumbling over the remnants of betrayal. That show was the perfect balm to wounds visible and invisible, just like Blackberry Belle likely helped Dulli heal from his own loss.
Another fall leads into winter, and I am in a different place and Dulli gifts us with what should have been (or more likely, what might have been), Amber Headlights. So much different in mood and feeling and color than Blackberry Belle, and obviously so: these were the recordings-in-progress as the truly-post-Whigs Dulli began to “fly without a net” (his words). All of this would be quietly shelved following the death of his close friend, Ted Demme.
To be fair, you have to evaluate this record for what it is, no more, no less: admittedly unfinished, a polaroid, a slice in time, not a finished product for mass release (although it is, gratifyingly, finding success outside of the major label mainstream). The songs are classic Dulli, some might have been Whigs songs or were originally written with the Whigs in mind. And even though this did not go through the rigorous process that An Album would have, as a document it is fascinating and infuriating — Dulli can write riffs and evoke a story arc in a melody line without seeming to break a sweat, maybe the necktie will be a little askew and the cigarette burned down to the filter. There’s no question that songs like “So Tight” or “Cigarettes” are Classic Dulli, “Early Today” has one of those guitar lines that sound like a heart unrending, “Golden Boy” should be on your summer driving soundtrack, “Get The Wheel” is likely the predecesor to the astonishing “Teenage Wristband” — and the superlatives could continue. All of this, for a release of unfinished demos that’s better than most people’s completed albums.
Where Blackberry Belle was elegie and eulogy, Amber Headlights is the Garden of Eden before the fall. Selfishly I am glad these saw the light of day and even more selfishly I hope this is not the final destination for these tracks and they make their way into the live Twilight Singers show, where that truly unique grouping of musicians can help the songs take on a life of their own outside the studio, and in the process, extend unintentional catharsis or elation or even just a moment to get down to everyone in the room.
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