(Varèse Sarabande)


Dwight 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 Twilley’s 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 he’s ever done.

To those who are fans, the ups and downs of the Twilley saga are well-known. Talent, looks and tunes weren’t 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 1975’s "I’m On Fire" ended with a barely noticed whimper a little more than 10 years later. Without a record contract by the 1990’s, Twilley went back home to Tulsa, to pick up the pieces and begin anew.

The wonderful irony is that Dwight Twilley has not only survived—but 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 that’s dominated his records since his third album. 

The 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 isn’t 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 Didn’t 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 Ringo’s hit “Photograph” in its opening chords (“‘all I’ve got is a photograph and I know you won't be coming back anymore…”Ringo Starr/George Harrison) 

“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 life’s 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 1960’s-70’s 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 wasn’t 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 one’s 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 album’s core he reaches self-acceptance, and perseveres.

"....We've all been down the drain, it's only stupid fame... - "Out In The Rain”

For me, the centerpiece of the album is the ballad "Good Things Come Hard", clearly written for Twilley’s 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 come hard..."

For those of us who revere the memory of those early Twilley albums and the promise of youth, our own as much as Twilley’s, 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…."

What’s to say after that? Twilley could’ve ended it there and no one would’ve blamed him, or he could have sentimentalized the sense of loss further—but 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 Taylor Hanson.

 “when the hero's found with a broken crownit's a shameyou better get it right, ‘cause it might be the  last time around...

Twilley’s 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


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