Replay: Black Love
Replay: Afghan Whigs, Black Love, 1996
Las Vegas Mercury
Modern rock doesn’t boast too many singer/songwriters as unique as Greg Dulli. When he formed his Ohio-based band Afghan Whigs in 1986, he sought to merge two of his strongest inspirations: `80s post punk and `70s soul. Back then, there weren’t too many bands with the moxie to blend those two sounds, and that still holds true in today’s music climate, despite the current trend of mashing unlikely pop genres and artists together. However, Dulli showed no reluctance in crooning over a blaring six-string attack, or garnishing his sexually charged yowls with jumpy grooves and wah-wah funk.
Dulli best wed these disparate influences on 1996’s Black Love, the Whigs’ second-to-last album. Whereas 1993’s major label debut Gentleman was the alpha-male equivalent of early `90s grunge and 1998’s swan song 1965 was unabashedly, even playfully soul-heavy, Black Love was the happy medium for listeners who wanted the sex back in their rock `n’ roll, and the Whigs–along
with a few guest players–whipped up a mix of indie-spirited R&B with few traces of derivation.
One of the best examples of this is “Blame, Etc.,” an urban angst anthem merging Dinosaur Jr. and Stevie Wonder. A funk groove, a spry conga beat and
upper-register axe soloing are the most flavorful elements here, but the band also layer the composition with a moody organ and space-filling strings, each
part with its own prominent moment but rounding out the sound as equally as the rest. The cherry on top, though, is Dulli’s brutal honesty towards love gone
sour: “A lie, the truth/ Which one shall I use?”
Dulli’s vocal character is as unique as his musical identity: a raspy, weary lover that’s not so much guarded as he is vengeful, and thus vulnerable to
desperation. One moment, he’s a Neil LaBute character, as he delivers lady-slaying lines such as “Got you what I want you, motherfucker/ I’ve got five up on your dime” in “Honky’s Ladder.” Yet, in the laconic strummer “Step Into the Light,” which could’ve come from Exile on Main Street, he compares love to a
junkie’s fix: “And the drug of your smile has gone/ And left me alone/ I need it bad, I need it now/ Won’t you come and give me some?” Only rhythm and blues
could score sentiments as romantically desolate as those.