Thursday, August 11, 2011

Screaming Trees Carve Last Words

Screaming TreesWhen Last Words: The Final Recordings by the Screaming Trees first appeared on iTunes, I passed thinking it was a reissue. I could not have been more wrong. One of the "Godfathers of Grunge" had left an unproduced batch of songs at Stone Gossard’s Studio Litho before they broke up in 2000.

The tapes were recently found by drummer Barrett Martin and producer Jack Endino. No, not every song is new and never heard, but enough of them are, alongside some rarities, that Last Words: The Final Recordings is somewhere in between a reissue and rediscovery. And anyone who knows the Screaming Trees will love every inch of it.

There are a few other surprises too. Peter Buck (R.E.M.) had made a guest appearance on some songs. It's nice to find that Josh Homme (pre-Queens of the Stone Age) did too. That makes sense because Martin and Buck worked together after the Screaming Trees broke up.

There will be no reunion, but Last Works is better than reminiscing.

Last Words being released a little over ten years since it was recorded is bittersweet. After the bottom fell out of grunge and the music became too good for people who made it a fashion statement, even the Screaming Trees couldn't keep it together.

They wouldn't have anyway. While some people say they missed their opportunity, with the band hanging on to Sweet Oblivion too long before releasing Dust, they already had some cracks. Despite favorable reviews, some saying it was their best album, the all-too-brief period of idiosyncratic sound was over. Dust never topped Sweet Oblivion.

Last Words provides a final goodbye at a time when music needs something like it again. It also proves Screaming Trees still had some work left in them, even if not everything was fully finished. I've read some people say it lacks the same level of inspiration, but Last Words strikes harder than many recent releases with active bands, especially a whole grouping that sold alt rock for fluff pop.

Although Butterfly isn't on the album, it reinforces that the Screaming Trees were one of the most underrated bands to come out of that era. From the earliest beginnings and well after, the band always produced solid music and fractured personalities.

The original members included Mark Lanegan (vocals), Gary Lee Conner (guitar), Van Conner (bass), and Mark Pickerel (drums), producing their first demo in 1985 with the help of Steve Frisk. All of them also had side projects, some great and others that only gave them all the more reason to split.

Pickerel was replaced by Martin, but that first fracture produced Sweet Oblivion. But then when the two brothers started drifting (with Donna Dresch temporarily replacing Van Conner), they were ever closer to the end. Despite this, the album proves Homme hadn't just signed up as a touring rhythm guitarist. He was in, as short lived as it would be.

Last Words is more than an epitaph for people who know music.

On Last Words, the most immediately sticky song is the Revelator, with its painfully captivating lyrics and full production. Others to check out include the powerful opener Ash Gray Wednesday, the timeless and melodic Door Into Summer, the sharp strummer Reflections, and the breathtaking and clairvoyant Last Words. It will make you long for Lanegan and company.

Other songs are solid, but strain at being unfinished despite some masterful reconstructions. It also serves as a reminder of where Lanegan came from despite multiple successes as a soloist and within various collaborative efforts.

Most recently, he played with previously reviewed The Twilight Singers and contributed a song to UNKLE. More recently, he joined Queens of The Stone Age on stage at the Nokia Club in Los Angeles to raise funds for Eagles of Death Metal bassist Brian O'Connor.

Last Words: The Final Recordings by the Screaming Trees Quakes At 8.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Not all of the album is perfect, but there is no denying that the Screaming Trees can contend today with anyone actively producing today. The music and its delivery get under the skin. It doesn't even matter that the material is made up of ten decade-old tracks. They sound like they were spooled together yesterday.

Last Words: The Final Recordings is available on iTunes. Alternatively, you can find Last Words: The Final Recordings on Amazon. Permanent fans might also want to check out the Screaming Trees at Wolfgang's Vault. They have two vintage posters there, including the celebrated 1992 b/w by Michael Lavine.
blog comments powered by Disqus