Black Love – Cincinnati Post

by Rick Bird, music writer
Grade: B-

The Afghan Whigs are still living in a seedy, squalid world. At least that’s how the band’s new album, Black Love, plays. It’s not a pleasant CD to listen to, if you want to have a happy moment. But its an album that could end up setting a new standard for late 90s grunge rock. Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs continue to wear their twisted emotions on their sleeves. Musically, and lyrically, Black Love will likely succeed for the alternative crowd, leaving mainstream music lovers unimpressed. This long-awaited second album for Elektra goes on sale Tuesday. It’s the follow-up to the group’s 1993 major label debut Gentlemen, that has earned the band a reputation as the darling what’s left of truly alternative music lovers. While last year may have been the year for women songwriters to hang out their angst, The Whigs’ album could mark the comeback of the angry, tortured male, thanks to lead songwriter Greg Dulli’s brutally honest, deranged writing.

Do you think I’m beautiful?
Do you think I’m evil?
Will you take me for a ride?
The one that never ends.

So sings Dulli on the opening cut, “Crime Scene Part One.” He sets the mood for his own heart of darkness. On “Summer Kiss,” what amounts to a Whigs love ballad, Dulli moans a warning about his evil self:

Demons be gone
Away from me.

The powerful cut “Faded” warns potential lovers:

You can believe in me, baby
Can I believe in you?
What you don’t know
Can hurt you, child,
All the things a mind can
Do to you.

Based on a loose concept around a potential need to murder, the listener is asked to travel with Dulli through an afflicted, oppressive, hedonistic trip of failed love and dysfunctional relationships. The album is impressively packaged with demented black-and-white pictures, lonely and lost lyrics, and a moaning guitar-thrash sound. Dulli himself has called the album “cinematic.” He’s right, if he feels success in creating a seedy “B” movie on CD. While its tempting to offer Dulli some Prozac after listening to the album, the Whigs – John Curley, bass; Rick McCollum, guitar; and new drummer Paul Buchignani – still manage to deliver some soaring musical sounds.And it is these musical inventions that save the album from being nothing more than Dulli’s metaphysical angst. The band has progressed to a new level. Dulli’s growling, mysterious vocals – combined with the band’s compact, dense “wall of sound” thrashing – are unmistakably the Afghan Whigs. Many of the album’s tracks are layered with cello and organ. It doesn’t lighten things, but only makes the music darker. With this album, the Whigs can claim to be the leaders on the modern music scene in fashioning a fusion between 90s grunge and African American rhythms. Influences run from Motown riffs to 70s funk to 80s hip-hop. As many so-called “alternative bands” get eaten by the mainstream, the Whigs remain an alternative to the alternative. Black Love is not the commercial rock-pop cross-over album some critics expected. Instead, it sends the Whigs back to the fringes of alternative rock. And that’s not all bad.

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