The Screaming Trees were never built for success. Brawling, yes. Chemical abuse, ditto. But fame?
Even with the right geographical credentials (the Pacific Northwest), at least two stone-cold classic albums to their name (1992’s Sweet Oblivion and 1996’s Dust) and a world famous rock star in their corner (Kurt Cobain), they were always that bit too old, too grumpy and too, well, classic to take their rightful place at grunge’s top table.
All of which makes the appearance of this ‘new’ album, more than a decade after they split, utterly surprising. Recorded in the dying days of the 20th century, as the last glowing embers of their career were ground out by the great heel of indifference, it more than matches past glories, while simultaneously reminding us just what we’re missing.
They were always traditionalists at heart, and Last Words doesn’t fuck with the formula. The bone-dry blues rock of Ash Gray Sunday is the sound of the last men at the bar downing whiskey as a dust storm builds up outside, Revelator exudes apocalyptic psychedelia from every cracked pore, and Crawlspace – featuring their old touring guitarist Josh Homme – is as claustrophobic as its title suggests.
At the heart of it all like a wasted preacherman is singer Mark Lanegan, his three-lighters-a-day rasp exuding malevolence and vulnerability in equal measure. ’I’ve been down, and I’ve had quite a time’ he mutters on Low Life, and you just know this is no act.
Why this has been fished out from down the back of the sofa right now isn’t clear. But in the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter, because Last Words is a very serious contender for Best Album Of 1999 and 2011.