Black Love – Yale Herald
Dulli flips his Whig with dark, depraved ‘Love’
THE AFGHAN WHIGS
Black Love (Elektra) ***
The Afghan Whigs may be closer to alternative rock than anything else, but don’t mistake Greg Dulli for just another angry whiner. In fact, he doesn’t whine-he just wants action. More often than not, action means satisfaction of Dulli’s gleefully masochistic desires.
Dulli previously explored the remnants of a failed relationship on 1993’s Gentlemen. With lyrics like “Tonight I go to hell for what I’ve done to you,” he seemed to be exorcising his own evils. Black Love, the Afghan Whigs’ fourth album, takes another step into the darker side of Dulli’s soul. Giving up all hope of deliverance, he revels in his own depravity.
Black Love is an album with a story. It opens with “Crime Scene, Part One,” in which a soft, brooding voice tells us that a man is on his way to kill his enemies; he is then accused of a murder in “My Enemy.” Dulli muses on the ability of friends to turn into enemies, thrusting out his anger among the ripping sounds of a steel guitar. “They say I killed a brother to fall in love with you,” he sarcastically says. For the narrator, there are more compelling reasons for murder, but he is trapped. “No matter what I tried to do, I stood accused,” Dulli’s hoarse, gut-wrenched voice screams in “Blame, Etc.” He is a man raging against the system with all the power betrayal can produce. What’s he going to do about it? Well, he decides to go burn down a town. “I’ll get the car, you get the match and gasoline,” Dulli tells his accomplice in “Going To Town.” Later, when his partner says they’ve got hell to pay, Dulli accepts the consequences with his usual twisted rapture: “Don’t worry, baby, that’s OK / I know the boss.” The near-dementia of his proposals are complemented by the strong organ and cello instrumentals that carry the listener away on a tidal wave of euphoria.
The thick, sludgy sound of the Whigs is still in top form. Bassist John Curley and organist Harold Chichester create the deep textures of the songs, with supplemental strings combined with steel guitar and clarinet pushing the album beyond the bounds of alternative angst. Dulli’s lyrics capture his sense of madness and abandon without relying on frustration alone to drive their intensity. Instead, he alternates between the pleading search for some feeling of certainty and a self-assured knowledge of the way things are.
In “Night by Candlelight” Dulli’s voice slithers its way into your head, asking you to repeat after him, “Am I vain? Have I shame?” Softly, hypnotically, he wrestles with his need for redemption, drawing us into the net of his thoughts. “Summer’s Kiss,” an almost jubilant hard song, leads us in the opposite direction. The narrator invites a woman to come sit in the cool grass on a summer day, but simultaneously realizes that everything will fade. “The dream is not a dream / I wake with it inside of me. / Alone, I swear.” His alienation pushes us up against the idea of nothingness. But Dulli is once again able to transcend it through self-inspection, action, and the twisted, exhilarating drive of his music.