Alternative-rock vets Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan managed to transcend ’90s grunge with the Afghan Whigs and Screaming Trees, respectively. Dulli now
does business as the Twilight Singers, while Lanegan makes solo albums and lends his nicotine-scarred pipes to other people’s albums, including Queens of the Stone Age’s and Dulli’s. Both struggled with drug abuse—they lived, friends didn’t. They’ve spent the 21st century trying to figure out how to age respectably, if not gracefully, without selling their souls to Satan or Botox. And they’ve stayed pals over time. This is tough for guys in their 40s. Just ask one.
So Saturnalia naturally vibes as a record made by men who haven’t worn a band T-shirt to a bar in years. Mortality, regret, guilt, and whatever remains of passion after you say “I was in love with you” all weigh heavily on these two. Fortunately, they’re both versed in meaty riffs, acoustic drama, noirish electronics, and a nice heavy backbeat.
The grimy boogie on “Idle Hands” reminds us that “we are the devil’s playthings.” Dulli is more convinced than ever that “life is shame, and your hands are stained,” especially when he’s talking about himself. “Hold on,” Lanegan intones on “All Misery/Flowers,” as if he barely can. These guys sound like they’re genuinely torn between looking up at the stars and trying to find an exit to the sewer. Neat trick, that.