Amber Headlights - (2005)
Amber Headlights can best be divided into blustery rockers and pastel moments of graceful, low-key melancholy. Dulli sounds troubled and tortured (as usual), but he's downright angry on the soulful rocker "Early Today (And Later That Night)" as a series of intertwined guitar solos rage in the background. He settles for an annoying drum machine-laden led beat on "Cigarettes", but his tuneful singing and the song's soaring chorus make up for the rhythmic misstep. This is the disc's best performance; you can almost hear Paul Westerberg's distant influence. "Pussywillow" drones along, all dark tones and weeping guitar. The symphonic overlay adds a touch of class without making the track sound too polished. If the guitar hasn't already pierced your heart, the desperately sung chorus certainly will. The piano-led "Get the Wheel" evolved into "Follow You Down" on a subsequent release, but this version is still a heartbreaker. Dulli's smoky voice drifts between the ivory keys, then is quickly overcome by silence at the song's end. It sounds unfinished, but it's still dazzling. If you're a longtime Dulli follower, you'll recognize "Domani", "So Tight" and the somber "Wicked", which have already found their way onto other releases. You won't mind owning them twice. For a fractured album that spent several years in limbo, Amber Headlights does two things very well: it's an impressive introduction to Dulli's far-reaching musical talent, and a spiritual cleansing for the wry vocalist himself. It's likely that the rough, ragged lyrics and afflicted vocals will help you exorcise some of your own demons along the way.