Thursday, August 04, 2011

Screaming Trees: "Last Words: The Final Recordings" (album review)

I'm happy to confess that back in the day I liked my fair share of grunge.  The undisputed kings of the genre, for me anyway, were Screaming Trees.  You take Gary Lee Conner's screaming guitar solos and big riffs, Barrett Martin's crashing cymbals, and top it off with Mark Lanegan's throaty yelp, and it made a magical combination for a 16 year old kid.

A decade after the band broke up there's an album of new material that's just been released.  Last Words: The Final Recordings is just that, it's the studio album that never saw the light of day when the band called it quits.

With the album opener "Ash Gray Sunday", you know right away that there will be some warts on this record.  The song is a solid rocker, but the production is hollow and flat, sounding much like their early SST work.  "Crawlspace" falls firmly in the filler category.

None of that stops you from enjoying the classic Screaming Trees moments.  "Door Into Summer" is a beautifully melodic midtempo number.  There's a gravitas to the strummed "Reflections" that cuts to the core.  The song "Revelator" combines bluesy verses with choruses that feel like they erupt forth from the speakers.

From a sonic perspective, the most interesting track may be "Black Rose Way".  It's bleak and shadowy in feel, but still has an irresistibly groovy cadence.  "Anita Grey" comes in a close second, with an opening guitar riffs that sounds like it's played in forward and reverse at the same time.

The best part of the album for me is hearing a Lanegan that we haven't been exposed to in a long time.  We've grown accustomed to hearing him with a boozy ominous snarl in his work with Isobel Campbell.  On Last Words though, we are treated to the Mark Lanegan who bellows and soars.  It's something that's been missing from the musical world for far too long.

While not perfect, Last Words seems like a fitting epilogue on the career of a band that I didn't get to say a proper goodbye to the first time around.

Best tracks: "Black Rose Way", "Low Life"

Track listing for Last Words: The Final Recordings:
  • Ash Gray Sunday
  • Door Into Summer
  • Revelator
  • Crawlspace
  • Black Rose Way
  • Reflections
  • Tomorrow Changes
  • Low Life
  • Anita Grey
  • Last Words
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