She Loves You and she doesn’t love me, explains Greg Dulli about the title of his third record with his musical incarnation, Twilight Singers, another revolving cast of musicians/characters. With two full-length notches in his belt, the Afghan Whigs singer’s project hasn’t really deviated from his mid-’90s alternative band, still combining angst rock and bluesy soul vocals. Dark as hell is one description of the Whigs tone; "If I inflict the pain/ Then baby only I can comfort you," he sang on the Whigs’s "When We Two Parted."
Now, I’ve never been a major Whigs fan. Dulli never really sold me on his white-boy angst. Why not just look to the Reznors or Cobains of the alt-music world for such sinister and morose songwriting? Think about how you feel about emo and you might understand my disdain. So I was initially appalled at the balls of She Loves You, an all-covers record. Such a project, you may recall, was endeavored to much success by Cat Power a few years ago, with striking re-imaginings of the Stones and Velvet Underground. Cat Power’s covers should be held up as definitive, in that each wallops the structure of the song and rephrases it in considerably distinctive forms. This is where She Loves You falls flat.
This is not to say that he and his fellow Singers haven’t made some excellent, and in a way uniform, choices. Most of the recreations were originally by female singer/songwriters, a striking choice from such a character of male torment. An uninspired acoustic rendition of Hope Sandoval’s "Feeling of Gaze" kicks the record off, leading into a somewhat more engaging version of the excellent Martina Topley-Bird’s "Too Tough to Die."
Some screeching guitars and piano on "Too Tough to Die" kick up the record’s mood, but it’s Dulli’s striking cover of Bjork’s "Hyperballad" that gives some early hope. Beginning with drums and guitar, band mates Mark Lanegan and Helen Storer join in to shout Bjork’s wonderful chorus. Later, they strike gold with an unorthodox choice — "Real Love" by Mary J. Blige. Dulli arranges the song with a piano kick and guitar wail, and what could have been an ironic lark comes off as an honest reworking of an R&B classic.
But besides these two brief glimpses of genius, the record plods through lackluster interpretations of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye. The lack of dynamism on She Loves You is unfortunate. Dulli and Co. have chosen some excellent songs — they just can’t justify covering them.