Black Love – Melody Maker

I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. I wouldn’t want to be the guy who did Greg Dulli wrong, the guy who stole his girl/skipped town without paying back that loan/gave him ketchup when he asked for mustard. Because Greg Dulli stores up injustices, holds them hard to his heart and won’t let them go. Not until the payback has been made, not until one eye has been exchanged for one eye and the balance of the universe of wrongs has been restored. Greg Dulli, make no mistake, will get even.

Revenge, of course, is one of the seven deadly sins. It’s also immensely satisfying. Not that Dulli wants anything as simplistic as his own back in kind. No, sir. Dulli wants his enemy pinned down by the harsh light of recognition before he lets him go. Until the next time. He wants him to know that he knows.

At least, that’s the way it sounds on this, the Afghan Whigs’ latest exorcism. The bleeding heart that Dulli opened for inspection before pouring in the salt of self-disgust on their staggeringly forthright last album is clearly healing fast. If it’s true that one of the stages on the road to recovery from emotional loss is anger, then whatever unbearable lack Dulli was trying to expunge through Gentlemen is obviously well behind him. Black Love sees him up and at it again, dancing on his toes and throwing out mock punches like a boxer in the corner before a bout. Now he’s ready to flick the shit right back in the face of anyone who dealt it out. And he’s grinning like a bastard at the thought.

God only knows happened chez Dulli over the last couple of years, but Black Love reeks of suspicion, doubt, paranoia, double-dealing and retribution. There they all are, fouling up “Blame, Etc.”: “Blame, deny, betray, divide/A lie, a truth/Which one will I use?” and “Beware of who you trust in this world/Beware the lies about to unfurl”; clouding darkly across “Double Day”: “Later in the afternoon/My paranoia got the better of me/I knew it would, it always do” and “My Enemy”: “There was a voice behind my back/His face I could not see it clear/The voice was so familiar though/I knew my enemy was near”; coming brutally to the point in “Honky’s Ladder”: “Got you where I want you motherfucker”. Oblique, Dulli ain’t.

It’s not just the lyrics, though. The Whigs’ brand of rock has a kind of rich meatiness which not only marks them as quintessentially male (not a criticism, before you all start in), but also gives their slabby, prime-steak sound a suffocating darkness and density. It’s perfect for a bunch of somebody done somebody wrong songs.

They’re not all played like that, though. “Step Into the Light” is a straight, sweet tale of a missed lover, no punches pulled, and even the most desperately literal-minded listener couldn’t imagine Dulli once actually torched a town with his lover and then drove off into the sunset (“Going to Town”).

As always, the Whigs’ high points are madly, exhilaratingly high: the divinely driven, double-Staxed chugga of “Blame, Etc.”, which masses around an explosive vocal chorus that will have gaskets blowing everywhere from Gateshed to Galveston; the way that trademark staccato riffing in “My Enemy” hacks so savagely at deception; the fact that “Going to Town” features Shawn Smith from Pigeonhed on vocals and pimps Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” so superbly; the loose, slamming piano on “Bulletproof”; the broderie delicacy of the cellos in “Night By Candlelight”. And everywhere, The Voice. Dulli’s glottis is the sluice-gate to his soul and he doesn’t let it trickle out slow. Black Love is the superbly controlled emotional gushing of one anguished, avenging guy. Watch your backs.

by Sharon O’Connell

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