The Gutter Twins' first full-length record may not have shown up until early 2008, but Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan had been working together since the early part of the millennium, Dulli with Lanegan on his solo work and Lanegan with Dulli's group the Twilight Singers, even touring as part of the band and showing up twice on the 2006 EP A Stitch in Time. It therefore makes sense that much of Saturnalia sounds quite similar to the Twilight Singers' material, particularly the songs where Dulli takes full or most of the writing and singing duties. This is by no means a bad thing; Dulli is all powerful, surging hooks and biting, twisting electric guitars, and Lanegan's baritone -- when he sings both lead and background vocals -- give the words an extra power, subtlety, and resonance, helped no doubt by the visceral growls he adds to lines in "Bête Noire" and "Circle the Fringes." These are songs drawn from the gothic tradition, where good and evil and pleasure and pain crisscross and entwine facilely and indelibly, where the secular and the sacred have no clear defining lines. Religious imagery weaves its way in and out, as much a part of the tracks as are the sex and violence and drugs and all the other Lanegan/Dulli constants. "I hear the Rapture's coming," they sing in "The Stations," recalling both life and death as Dulli's snarl rises over his partner's moan, while Lanegan takes the lead on the gospel-inspired "Who Will Lead Us?" and the ominous storm cloud of "All Misery/Flowers," which starts with "Little girls might twitch at the way I hitch" and ends with the refrain of "I tell you my story so that you might save me," as Dulli sings softly behind. So well, in fact, do the two voices work together, that the one track to which only one contributed (Dulli wrote and sings alone on "I Was in Love with You") seems almost out of place, shiny nickels and dimes on the offering plate stuffed with bills. Saturnalia is mysticism and hedonism, saints and sinners, dark and light, but this is no clear-cut Manichaean collaboration. Both Lanegan and Dulli represent this, both contain all the good and the bad they sing about, sometimes at different moments but very often together, and it's that joined duality, that very disturbingly human quality, telling us things about ourselves we'd rather not acknowledge, that makes the album so absolutely alluring.
AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown
feat: Front St.