Dust: Ex­panded Edi­tion

UNCUT - - Archive Screaming Trees - JoHn MuL­VeY

Ris­ing from the ashes: Mark Lane­gan and co’s mag­num opus

For one of the best and most es­tab­lished bands in Seat­tle, Scream­ing Trees were not es­pe­cially skil­ful at cap­i­tal­is­ing on the grunge boom of the early ’90s. Signed to a ma­jor la­bel be­fore most of their con­tem­po­raries, Mark Lane­gan and his band­mates had inched towards main­stream suc­cess with 1992’s Sweet Obliv­ion: MTV played their videos; “Nearly Lost You” made the sound­track to Sin­gles; US sales peaked at 300,000. But at the point when less frac­tious bands would be ramp­ing up the pro­fes­sion­al­ism, Scream­ing Trees stum­bled into an un­for­tu­nately timed hia­tus. Lane­gan made his second spare, bluesy solo record, and rec­on­cil­ia­tory band ses­sions were scrapped. “A bunch of shit hap­pened in our per­sonal life,” Lane­gan told me in the sum­mer of ’96. “My friends were dy­ing, and at one point I thought the mu­sic I was mak­ing per­son­ally was hav­ing an ad­verse ef­fect on peo­ple. I started think­ing, ‘What ef­fect does this mu­sic have? I al­ways find it up­lift­ing, but is this mu­sic de­press­ing?’ But then I re­alised it was mu­sic that got me through all the hard times.”

Four years on from Sweet Obliv­ion, Dust even­tu­ally ar­rived a lit­tle too late for its own good. It sounded – and still sounds, in this ex­panded edi­tion – like the per­fect evo­lu­tion of grunge, con­sciously re­align­ing that up­start mu­sic with the clas­sic rock and psychedelia that had pre­ceded it. But in spite of ex­pen­sive con­tem­po­rary trim – arena-ready pro­duc­tion from Ge­orge Drak­ou­lias, Black Crowes amanu­en­sis; a big and shiny mix from Andy Wal­lace, com­pa­ra­ble to his Nev­er­mind work – the al­bum sold less than Sweet Obliv­ion. While their tour­ing rhythm gui­tarist, Josh Homme, worked strate­gi­cally towards star­dom, the Scream­ing Trees never man­aged to re­lease an­other record.

Dust, then, feels like less of a lost cu­rio, and more of a lost block­buster. Once, the al­bum’s grav­i­tas and its pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with mor­tal­ity seemed to dom­i­nate, from the men­tion of “one foot in the grave” in the open­ing “Halo Of Ashes”, through to the mantric churn of closer, “Gospel Plow”. Now, though, its pop­pi­ness and swing is most strik­ing: “Make My Mind” is al­most un­can­nily catchy; Heart­breaker Ben­mont Tench, guest­ing on or­gan, turns “Sworn And Bro­ken” into a kind of pop baroque; “All I Know” cou­ples sten­to­rian an­themics with a swag­ger­ing groove.

That im­per­a­tive could lead down some dan­ger­ous paths. A mostly un­sat­is­fy­ing second CD of B-sides and ephemera in­cludes “Sil­ver Tongue” (sal­vaged from the aborted post-Sweet Obliv­ion ses­sions), where the funk-rock con­geals into a baggy rave-up com­pa­ra­ble to Pri­mal Scream. “Morn­ing Dew”, mean­while, is taken at an undig­ni­fied rush; as a song Lane­gan was born to sing, it feels like one more missed op­por­tu­nity. “There’s a world of ex­pe­ri­ence in Ge­orge Jones’ voice that touches you in a way that noth­ing else will,” he told me in 1996. “If any­thing, that’s what we try to do.” Soon enough, Lane­gan would find other, mul­ti­far­i­ous out­lets through which to ar­tic­u­late that mis­sion. He would never, though, set­tle in one with the heft and doomed po­ten­tial of his first great band.

Scream­ing Trees (Mark Lane­gan, second left)

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