Gentlemen Rolling Stone
In the title cut of the Afghan Whigs’ new album, singer-guitarist Greg Dulli repeatedly asks, “Do you understand/I’m a gentleman?” – his guttural roar underscoring the irony of his question. Indeed, the Whigs are no gentlemen, pumping out edgy, rhythmically complex cock rock reminiscent of Pearl Jam and imbued with an overwrought misanthropic angst that would embarrass even American Music Club. On Gentlemen, Dulli creates a distinctive gallery of wicked personae, such as the desperado with “a dick for a brain” in “Be Sweet” or the addictive personality of “Gentlemen” who begs to “Unlock the cabinet/I’ll take whatever you got.” Dulli’s characters aren’t big on romance, either, openly “scared of girls” and “infatuated with a lunatic” in relationships that resemble “What Jail Is Like.”
On Gentlemen, the Whigs break from the sludgy guitar morass favored by fellow Sub Pop expatriates like Nirvana and Mudhoney. Instead, they opt for a clean, oddly detached hard-rock sound that shifts erratically between purgative and disarmingly pretty, adding tension to Dulli’s caterwauling. If anything, the Whigs resemble their Minneapolis forefather more than any current Seattle brethren, churning out bittersweet country-fried ballads a la Soul Asylum (“When We Two Parted,” “My Curse”) or driving Zen Arcade-style weepers like “What Jail Is Like.”
Gentlemen doesn’t always mesh seamlessly – Dulli’s self-flagellation can grow monotonous and occasionally acquires an unfortunate Bono-esqu self-importance. Still, when the Whigs’ dense, near-symphonic sonic blast – tempered by piano, Mellotron, cello and a plaintive slide guitar – coalesces with their brooding intensity, they tug at the heartstrings in ways not much late-period punk rock does, turning them into something much more than a Joy Division for the Soundgarden set.