When two or three aging classic-rock acts join forces on the concert circuit, the reasoning is obvious: They hope that their thinning fan bases combined can manage to buy enough tickets to fill a halfway-respectable shed. But the recent pairing of friends Greg Dulli (formerly of Afghan Whigs) and Mark Lanegan (of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age) as the Gutter Twins doesn't suggest that '90s alt-rock groups are looking to follow their predecessors' business model. After all, even in their prime, these guys never rose above revered cult status, thanks to their determinedly dark worldviews and steadfast refusal to lighten their outlook with accessible radio hooks or nods to hopefulness.
Rarely straying too far from either man's sonic M.O., Saturnalia, a reference to a hedonistic Roman festival, is a murky batch of hard rock and blues that luxuriates in labyrinthine squalor. Placed next to each other, Dulli's soulful croon and Lanegan's sepulchral groan are fitting tag-team partners: No matter which of them takes the lead vocal, the other offers a bracing countermeasure. Anybody hoping that Saturnalia constitutes a career comeback will be disappointed, but if an air of familiarity lingers over these 12 cuts, at least the songwriters both get one great moment to shine. For Dulli, naturally, it's a love-gone-south tune; on "I Was in Love with You," he moans and contorts with dive-bar misery. Elsewhere, Lanegan presides over "The Stations," where the oncoming rapture brings terror to the land and the faintest smile to his lips.
Tim Grierson writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].