Could it be that after decades of self-flagellation Greg Dulli is ready to cut loose? On Random Desire, the latest solo outing by the Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers’ resident tortured poet, he sounds like he’s at least willing to try.
The album opens with a spry, buoyant bass line and snappy rhythm on “Pantomima” — a mood that Dulli immediately crushes with his inherent pessimism, singing, “Desolation, come and get it.” A few seconds later, he cracks that his broken heart as been “fixed in post” like a Hollywood producer making an actor who flubbed his line look good. In this case, “fixed in post” means an uplifting guitar line, a little tambourine and vocal hooks like “don’t you forget it” hiding his otherwise tempestuous world outlook. It’s a pace he manages to keep up for 37 minutes on Random Desire.
As a whole, the album is a surprising turn for an artist who built much of his legend on self-loathing, brooding, and yearning (both existentially and carnally). This is the guy, after all, who nearly 30 years ago sang “I got a dick for a brain/And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you” on the Whigs’ “Be Sweet.” Since then, he’s drifted in and out of his Lothario guise, twisting his dark-night-of-the-soul confessions through an angsty kaleidoscope lens, coming off a bit more philosophical with the Twilight Singers. So even though we know Dulli was the man behind the curtain on all those albums, it’s curious how different Random Desire is from the rest of his oeuvre, if not for the fact that it began as a truly solo effort with him handling all the instruments (before inviting a few of his friends to record with him).