Screaming Trees - Dust
I never really got grunge. That may be an odd statement to make, but I guess it has more to do with the fact that grunge was largely American thing. Sure, I have some grunge albums, but find the albums which were made after grunge had kicked the musical bucket, such as Fantastic Planet and Naveed to be more inspired. It always seemed to me that grunge was limited by the solely-guitar based format it adopted. As far as I was concerned, it seemed to be just an extension of seventies hard rock given a new lease of life and some pretty appalling taste in clothes.
Coming, as it did, at the end of the grunge lifespan, Dust promised to be different. The Screaming Trees took their cue from a combination of sixties garage rock and eighties punk, gradually morphing into a grittier psychedelic sound. They also stepped outside the limitations of the instrumentation of other grunge bands and made greater use of synthesisers, mellotrons and even sitars. While this made them stand apart from some of their contemporaries and fellow north-east coasters, it also put them on the edge of a scene causing them to become rather overlooked and left behind when it came to wider appreciation of their music.
Dust was their last formal recording, by which time their style had evolved far away from the band's original roots. Whether this is a good or a bad thing ultimately depends, I suppose, on where the individual listener started out on his or particular musical journey, but I can't help feeling that the Screaming Trees missed an opportunity.
The album opens well enough with the solid if unspectacular "Halo of Ashes". By opening with a track using a sitar the band may have been attempting to make a musical statement. If so, it didn't quite come off, because it attempts at the epic without achieving it. A similar guitar-driven track, "Dime Western", towards the end of the album, misses the mark by an even greater margin. However, the one thing which rescues these tracks, and indeed the album as a whole, from complete mediocrity, is Mark Lanegan's world-weary, whiskey and cigarettes voice. Without his soulful baritone vocals, many of the tracks would be completely unmemorable.
Nowhere is this more apparent than on "Sworn and Broken", the album's stand-out track. Lanegan's refusal to sing the final syllable of January becomes endearing and compelling. The use of mellotrons adds some depth and character to the bluesy feel of the track, though the overall effect is somewhat spoilt by the out of place synthesiser bridge in the middle which is far too high and tinkly to suit a track like this.
Other tracks which are memorable include "Dying Days" which seems to be about the fall out from the Mount St Helens eruptions and a reasonable ballad in "Look at You". Finally, "Gospel Plow" is worth a mention for the fact that it seems to be three separate musical themes rolled into one and is one of those tracks which encapsulates, in a way that few Europeans can truly appreciate, the conflicting feelings of joy and resentment at the influence of religion on the daily life of the average American.
Though I am glad I have got this album, I cannot say it has done a great deal to enhance my appreciation of American music in a wider context. I still have the approach of dipping into the pool rather than immersing myself in it when it comes to American music of the last two decades. I am left with a feeling that this album had the potential to be so much better than it actually is.
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on 2011-10-14 dscanland Said:
I tend to like Sweet Oblivion over Dust. This was a fine album but Sweet Oblivion was almost flawless. And as for the Grunge thing, I don't think the Screaming Trees even fit the bill. They just got caught up in the whole thing because of the association rather than their output.