Black Love – Wash City Paper

As a practicing masochist, the Afghan Whigs’s Greg Dulli uses bad judgment as a matter of artistic principle. For their 1993 release Gentlemen, the Whigs went to the same studio where Big Star recorded Third and emerged with the ’90s most twisted break-up album: the hellish testament of a relationship so mutually disruptive you’d think those involved were participating on a dare. In one of the many instances where Dulli claimed to be getting some pleasure from the pain, he sang, “I get dressed up to play the assassin again. It’s my favorite. It’s got personality.”

Putting to rest the notion that an intelligent man can learn to avoid fire after getting seriously burnt, the Whigs return to the scene of Gentlemen’s crime with Black Love. Where Gentlemen marked an artistic breakthrough for a band that had previously made two marginal records for Sub Pop, Love is a near-campy re-enactment of it.

However, it’s hard not to admire Dulli for the shamelessness of his efforts. Even before he became an indie sex-god, Dulli didn t pay any mind to his status as a virtual nobody, draping himself with celebrity arrogance well before anyone cared enough to consider him an asshole. That’s hardly abnormal behavior for any artist. But like the pre-Live Through This Courtney Love, Dulli early on exhibited such a taste for attention (upon the release of Gentlemen, Dulli attributed his insolence to genius) that his eventual popularity seemed inevitable.

With Black Love, Dulli fixes to reinvent himself as a soul man. A longtime fan of R&B (on a ’92 Sub Pop EP, the Whigs cover Al Green and the Supremes), Dulli borrows soul music’s dramatic scope to make the Whigs something greater than another group of angry white punks; even while the Superfly grooves in “Bulletproof” and “Blame Etc.” fail to mask the Whigs’ rock roots, the mangy hybrid is a sound few other white funksters have explored. And if Black Love reveals anything new about Dulli’s self-destructive MO, it’s that he intends to chalk up enough personal misery to be able to earn the soul man’s crown without having to answer to the fact that he’s a white guy with less than perfect pitch. On Love’s first single, “Honky’s Ladder,” Dulli states his case in no uncertain terms when he asks, “How high does a brother have to climb to touch the lights?”

Dulli’s questions is most easily answered by the fact that the only things Black Love has in common with ’70s soul are ornamental–a hip-shaking organ groove here, a fidgety wah-wah fill there. But in a time when self-important whiners are in control of much of pop music’s character, it’s refreshing to hear someone emote with a sense of greater purpose.

by Brett Anderson (mail@washcp.com)

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