Screaming Trees – Dust – Round 20 – Graham’s Choice

A loud theme opened the door to a band I had been thinking of bringing along for a while, partly to test the water on whether I was out on my own as an admirer of their work. I’m not really sure if I have a “nodding” category in my meagre collection, but the Screaming Trees would definitely fit in there. Whether in the car or at home, involuntary head movements quickly follow when this and the previous 2 albums  are played.

I think I came across this band through some kind of TV/radio documentary exploring the American Grunge scene in early 90’s. The band had been around since the mid 80’s and Dust was finally released in 1996, after a four year gap in releases and abortive attempts to record. This was their 3rd release on a major label and their 7th and final studio album. On that basis it might be expected that the band was running out of steam and the album would reflect this. What I get from Dust is an album where the band seem to be enjoying themselves, free from some constraints of what they might have been expected to produce in the past and more confident in their own abilities and willingness to expand on their previous sound. I’m still not sure if the mellotron/organ on Sworn and Broken really works, but it certainly comes in as a surprise. Listening again, they even allowed for a little guitar heroics, most of which can be sustained by the general feel of the album. Whether labeled post punk/grunge in the past, their sound developed through their last 3 albums and here they are happily embracing psychedelia/folk/country influences on many of the tracks, without losing an easy to follow “groove”, as it were.

All of this still leaves me asking why they never enjoyed the commercial success of the other bands spawned by the Seattle grunge scene? Whether they wanted it is down to them, but timing of albums and tours doesn’t seem to have been on their side, and the Connor brothers were never going be as photogenic as Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder. Whether filed under “nodding” or “earthy/dirty/grungy”, still and album and band to be enjoyed.

For an “earthy/dirty/grungy” point of reference track, I managed to sneak in Sick Again, the final song on the magnum opus that is Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffitti.

Tom Listened: Screaming Trees are one of those bands that I have always meant to check out and always thought I’d quite like, imagining from what I have read that Mark Lanegan’s voice would be rough and gravelly (akin to Tom Waits at his brawliest) and the sound of the band to be right up my street. This could still turn out to be the case but, to be honest, I don’t really remember much of Dust and I suppose that may well be a problem as I am unlikely to actively seek it out…its ten songs kind of washed over me and left little impression. Over the years some of my favourite albums have had similarly inauspicious beginnings but usually there will be something that reels me in for a second go. With Dust, surprisingly for me, that certain something seemed to be missing.

Nick listened: Conversely, I’ve had this album since shortly after it came out in late 1996, and have played it hundreds of times in the near-16-years since then. I love it; for me, it’s the platonic essence of an accomplished rock record, with strong songs, great performances, rugged vocals, terrific riffs, just enough virtuosity to make it impressive without ever verging on wanky. The sound is terrific; George Drakoulias’ production and Andy Wallace’s mixing give it a rough, hewn foundation but a smooth front edge, loads of detail but plenty of heft, too. Whenever I want loud, primal, but sophisticated rock with hints of psychedelia, folk, and blues, I reach for Dust. Play it loud.

Rob listened: I also bought ‘Dust’ when it came out, but for me it was the unacceptable waning of the fire that had started in Seattle. I loved the filthy, broken, wild blues roots of grunge. Mudhoney threatening to kick through your speakers and lick your face. Tad struggling to stave of a massive coronary whilst screaming about drowning in an upturned pick-up. Kurt taking his global success and laying it all on the line with ‘In Utero’. Amphetamine Reptile records and all the disgraceful abandon they stood, or mainly laid down, for. Then there was the other line of descent, down through Pearl Jam to Stone Temple Pilots and ultimately to Nickelback. ‘Dust’ is okay, but it belongs in that half of the family. And I’m with the freaks.

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