Screaming Trees Last Words: The Final Recordings
By: Bridget Herlihy
This latest – and last – release from Seattle heroes Screaming Trees is bittersweet. It is a treat for fans both old and new to get their hands on a “new” collection of tracks eleven years after the band officially announced their break-up, yet it also marks the swan song of the Trees.
Entitled Last Words: The Final Recordings, released through drummer Barrett Martin’s label Sunyata Records, the tracks that feature on the album originated from an unreleased album that the band recorded at Stone Gossard’s Studio Litho during 1998 and 1999.
The band was all too often neglectfully overlooked in favor of the so-called “grunge” movement’s sweethearts Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Screaming Trees earned some commercial success with the great Sweet Oblivion, and catching the attention of the many with the popular single “Nearly Lost You,” which was also featured on the “Singles” soundtrack. Yet the band were frequently overshadowed, and never obtained the same kind of attention or commercial success as their aforementioned peers, even though their follow-up album Dust is a hauntingly beautiful masterpiece.
Last Words: The Final Recordings features the Connor brothers – Gary Lee on guitar and Van on bass, Barrett Marin on drums, and the unmistakable vocals of Mark Lanegan. The album also includes guest appearances from Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and Peter Buck (R.E.M.), with Jack Endino masterfully mixing the recordings.
The album opens with the forceful and solid “Ash Gray Sunday,” which beautifully moves into the melancholy “Door Into Summer.” The album also features several quieter, strummed tracks, namely “Reflections” and “Low Life,” reasonably solid tracks, but they pale in comparison to the album’s more edgy and energetic tracks. Despite my own personal dislike of vocal distortion, “Crawlspace” is one of my favorite tracks on the album – a song that sees the band stripped down to their essential elements.
There are many classic Trees moments on these recordings, encompassing some of the greatest elements of the band’s back catalog. Other standout tracks include the moody yet melodic “Black Rose Way” and the upbeat “Anita Grey”, which lays down a contagious rock groove.
Overall, this collection of 10 tracks has a somewhat more relaxed feel to them than previous recordings, yet Gary Lee’s guitar riffs, Van’s throbbing bass and Martin’s crashing symbols and relentless beats still shine bright. As always, Lanegan’s smokey vocals are exquisite; clearly showing why he is considered to be one of the greatest rock vocalists of our time.
Last Words: The Final Recordings is a perfect closure to a great band. And it seems only fitting that the band do indeed have the last words on their career:
“There are no plans for a reunion, as the band members are well-adjusted adults who actually get along with each other and have happily moved on with their lives. Gary Lee started a family and the band Microdot Gnome while Van, also a family man, started the band Valis, as well as the label Strange Earth Records. Martin started his own label, a jazz group, and became a college professor, and Lanegan has cultivated a highly successful solo career. No, instead of a reunion like so many other bands have done, the Screaming Trees just want to make this final album available to their friends and fans – their last words, so to speak.