They were one of grunge’s true pioneers, releasing seven albums (among them, their 1992 major label breakthrough Sweet Oblivion) before breaking up in 2000. But in their 15-year run, the Screaming Trees never came close to the crossover success of fellow acts like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Which is a shame: frontman Mark Lanegan‘s haunting, resonant baritone came on as equally wounded as Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, and classics like “Nearly Lost You” remain some of the heaviest and tuneful anthems of the era.
Prior to their split, the Screaming Trees laid down tracks for a final album, which is finally seeing release. Mixed by Jack Endino (who produced Nirvana’s Bleach) and featuring back-up from then-touring guitarist Josh Homme, Last Words chronicles a band in transition; particularly Lanegan, who’d go on to explore goth-folk terrain with Greg Dulli in the Gutter Twins. Hard-charging rockers like “Ash Gray Sunday” and “Anita Gray” prove the Screaming Trees could’ve done the grunge thing forever, but the easy psychedelic groove of “Door Into Summer” and the whisper-y, ’60s-folk cadence of “Reflections” suggest Lanegan had more fun spinning records by the Raspberries and CSNY.
Unfortunately, once again, the Trees’ timing couldn’t have been worse — Pearl Jam are celebrating their 20th anniversary with their own festival, while Nevermind is getting the super deluxe treatment this fall — but Last Words ultimately shows these guys had as much guts and brawn as the competition.