Twilley is haunted. On his excellent and moving new album, Soundtrack,
Dwight Twilley reveals himself to be a man hounded by ghosts; particularly
the poignant memories of his departed partners, Phil Seymour
and Bill Pitcock IV, and perhaps even more so by the bittersweet
taste of youthful dreams not quite realized. Inspired by a film
document of his life story (which may or may not ever see the light
of day) Soundtrack is a loosely arranged autobiographical
song cycle, tracing the arc of Twilleys career from Tulsa, Oklahoma
around the world and back again in a buoyant collection of songs that
are as catchy and hard-hitting as anything hes ever done.
To those who are fans, the ups and downs of the Twilley saga are well-known.
Talent, looks and tunes werent enough to overcome a series of
bad breaks and the vagaries of an unsympathetic music industry, and
a career that started out with a top-forty bang in 1975s "Im
On Fire" ended with a barely noticed whimper a little more than
10 years later. Without a record contract by the 1990s, Twilley
went back home to Tulsa, to pick up the pieces and begin anew.
The wonderful irony is that Dwight Twilley has not only survivedbut
thrived. After a period out in the wilderness, he's recording perhaps
the best work of his career; indeed, Soundtrack may
be his most accomplished collection of songs to date. Soundtrack
is classic Dwight Twilley; melodic pop-rock filled with ringing guitars,
Beatlesque flourishes and John-Paul-George style harmonies amidst
the lush Spector-like wall of sound thats dominated his records
since his third album.
album opens with a string of four killer tracks in a row, tunes that
set the tone of autobiography, but resist an easy chronology. Soundtrack
isnt a Broadway musical. You Close Your Eyes and
Skeleton Man are both Petty in Byrds-mode
rockers that confront the shadow of death with eyes wide open, if
you will, while Bus Ticket and Tulsa Town
are more directly autobiographical; the former is a classic Twilley
rockabilly number, the latter a harmonica and piano driven mid-tempo
tune that calls to mind similar forays by both John Cougar Mellencamp
and Springsteen without ever sounding derivative.
There are no dogs here, every cut is prime Twilley; the directness
of the Lennon-like ballad My Life, the power and anger
of God Didnt Do It, the bittersweet Out In
The Rain, the jubilant Memphis/Stax-Volt sound of Cards
Will Fall and the grand pop sweep of The Lonely One
which so smartly quotes Ringos hit Photograph in
its opening chords (all Ive got is a photograph
and I know you won't be coming back anymore
stories yes I've got a few, but no one's there to tell
them too-the jester's left to learn the blues...I am the Lonely One
Not an easy thing, to surrender the dream your lifes work has
been built upon, to face up to the limitations imposed upon you by
fate, by circumstance, by fortune-good or bad. Twilley had been the
embodiment of one kind 1960s-70s teen-pop rock dream;
very much like Eric Carmen and The Raspberries, or Alex Chilton of
Big Star; and his own star succumbed to the death of that dream.
He wasnt going to be Elvis. Or even Ricky Nelson. That
"surrender" is all over Soundtrack,
mentioned in any number of songs.
"....ran away from Tulsa Town...just to be a circus clown,
the golden ring was lost and found..."- "Tulsa Town"
The blunt acknowledgment of a perceived failure to live up
to ones promise and the inability to overcome the obstacles
life has stacked before your dream; imbues the album with an overwhelming
sense of sadness and resignation.
"....God didn't kill your record career, God didn't make your
fame disappear..." - "God Didn't Do It"
But Soundtrack never succumbs to self-pity, and Twilley
doesn't look for scapegoats. Twilley's triumph on "Soundtrack"
is that at the albums core he reaches self-acceptance, and perseveres.
"....We've all been down the drain, it's only stupid fame...
- "Out In The Rain
me, the centerpiece of the album is the ballad "Good Things Come
Hard", clearly written for Twilleys lamented partner, Phil
Seymour, who succumbed to lymphoma in 1993. For anyone who was a fan
of the gorgeous records Twilley and Seymour made together in the mid-seventies
and the youthful hope and innocence those records embodied, this song,
built upon a beautiful melody and poignant harmonies recalling Twilley
& Seymour at their "Sincerely" best, will break your
heart with its tale of "two little boys
with little guitars
went for a walk that went around the world
"Good Things Come Hard describes the arc of Twilley's
career, and while he sings of "little antiques
left to themselves"
and "leaving the stage", he also reveals that the pain of
his past hasn't left him entirely without optimism or hope.
"...the ghost of a dream still hides in your heart, good things
For those of us who revere the memory of those early Twilley albums
and the promise of youth, our own as much as Twilleys, the last
verse is a moment of absolute crushing directness
"two little boys, they went their own ways, one's still around
and one's in the grave
Whats to say after that? Twilley couldve ended it there
and no one wouldve blamed him, or he could have sentimentalized
the sense of loss furtherbut the tenderness of his music belies
an underlying tough-mindedness that rears itself in the last cut;
The Last Time Around, a tough rocker driven by chunky-
power chords, a rolling bass-line and the electroshock keyboards of
when the hero's found with a broken crownit's
a shameyou better get it right, cause it might
be the last time around...
Twilleys point is borne out by the story of loss and survival
that drives this great album; you gotta make your chance count for
something, cause you may not get another one. On Soundtrack,
Dwight Twilley gets it right.
Review written by Geoff Grogan @ LookoutMonsters.com