Black Love – Spin

This Cincinnati band was several Sub Pop records and many more feverish live dates into a career when its soulful experiments cohered into Gentlemen. By that time, it happened to be 1993, so the songs’ crack guitar-architecture behaved with the expected distorted-post-Nirvana involvement. Yet everything else about singer and songwriter Greg Dulli’s band seemed less literally generic: the cinematic drifts, the actorly immersions, the disregard for metal, the uncanny union with ’60s and ’70s R&B. Black Love, Afghan Whigs’ new album, wisely emphasizes the band’s exceptional qualities and de-emphasizes the alt-rock overlays. More than ever, Afghan Whigs emerge as a robust, breathing unit capable of capturing the intense close-ups, disorienting dissolves, and wide pans of the mental events and outside auras that obsess Dulli. Crazy as he is about the expository powers of cinema, he still works overtime not to use language alone to create his stories.

Nothing better illustrates this than the heightened finesse with which Afghan Whigs continue to adapt black music to rock. Like Dulli’s refracted way with words and characters, this notional R&B – not anyone’s tribute or copy, but soul rhythms and organs and background-vocal renovations and harmonics threaded through a thick tapestry of passionate decontruction – amounts to a rare engagement between genres. Songs like “My Enemy” tackle big issues like revenge, slander, and survival by knitting them furiously into rock tracks where every guitar stutter, every barging drumbeat, every distressed rhapsody advances the shards of narrative and atmosphere that combine for Afghan Whigs’ rock. Even when a couple of songs, like the magnificent “Going to Town” and “Faded,” use dance beats or gospel straight-up, Afghan Whigs never quite offer the mere soul recital.

As with Gentlemen, the way such conventions inform instead of determine chewier pieces like “Double Day” or “Blame, Etc.” is what really distinguishes the music. And the ballads (“Step Into the Light,” “Night by Candlelight”) are, almost incredibly, the deliberations of a rock guy who knows his L.T.D. and Gap Band slow-jams. That Dulli’s voice has the texture of old mink and the rhythmic reliability of a metronome clinches the deal. The net result is rock music as unforgiving as a car hood, as elegant as a cuff link.

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