buy the afghan whigs in spades

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New Album: In Spades

Black Love –

The profile of Afghan Whigs singer-songwriter-guitarist Greg Dulli has been ascending steadily through five previous, acclaimed Whigs albums and a maverick, do-what-I-damn-well-please persona that even included a stint as the voice of John Lennon on 1995’s Backbeat soundtrack. Now, with Black Love, that reputation should shoot through the roof of cultdom and into widespread praise.

This is Dulli’s definitive statement; as such, it bears a strong resemblance to the latest work of another breakthrough maverick: Billy Corgan. Black Love serves the same role as Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness does in the Smashing Pumpkins’ canon–and it shares many of the same rewarding attributes.

In fact, Dulli and Corgan are oddly similar, albeit with curious differences. Like Corgan, Dulli ventures beyond the standard rock format, coloring Black Love with a sonic palette that includes cellos, electric pianos, soulful falsettos (by guest vocalist Doug Falsetti!), and “Shaft”-like ’70s wah-wah pedals (both Dulli and Corgan revere the grandiose aspects of ’70s pop, almost perversely). They both use personal vengeance as their primary muse and mission, although Dulli’s vendettas are aimed at targets more mature than Corgan’s adolescent persecutors. Both artists possess a primal, piercing vocal yowl (Dulli’s is more physically imposing and threatening), and both are ambitious enough to bracket their albums with grand overtures. Dulli uses an ominous organ motif that sets the dark mood, then leads it out unsettingly.

But unlike Corgan, Dulli’s milieu is murky, a grimy underworld of drug dealers, murderers, arsonists, deceivers, and moral failures, himself among the latter. And in almost every song, he enacts revenge against these deviants. Yet for all its anger, there’s an element of pathos here, mostly in the awareness of one’s own weaknesses. “Tonight, tonight, I say good-bye/To everyone who loves me/Stick it to my enemies,” Dulli sings in the opening “Crime Scene Part One.” But his killers question things: “Do you think I’m beautiful?/Or do you think I’m evil?” the same murderer wonders. And in “Going To Town,” an arsonist tells his lover that he knows he’s going to hell: “Don’t worry, baby, that’s okay/I know the boss.”

Meanwhile, searing, soaring guitar lines pull each song out of the dirt by its roots, and little musical tricks matter–sharp listeners will even catch Dulli copping the melody of Olivia Newton-John’s “Have You Never Been Mellow” on the bridge of the foreboding “Blame, Etc.,” as Dulli, perhaps unconsciously, indulges his love for cheesy ’70s pop. Funny, though: it all quilts together like a warped Tarantino film.

Black Love is aptly named: it’s as twisted, sarcastic, bitter and depraved as the first word implies, yet as vulnerable, pained and devoted to its mission and musical power as the second idealizes. That’s a combination that’s tough to swallow, but also tough to beat.

— John Bitzer

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