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Black Love – Nude as the News

Afghan Whigs
Black Love
Elektra, 1996

Nude as the News

RiYL: Dinosaur Jr., Mark Lanegan, Scrawl
Afghan Whigs vocalist Greg Dulli sums up himself and his relationship with the public on “Crime Scene Part One,” the opener of the band’s sixth album, Black Love: “Do you think I’m beautiful? / Do you think I’m evil?” he asks over the atmospheric music.

To a degree, Dulli has been alternative rock’s No. 1 bad boy. Unlike Eddie Vedder or Billy Corgan, whose lyrics struggle to overcome the destruction and despair around them, Dulli revels in it.

But then there’s the music. The Whigs, formed in Cincinnati in 1988, have made themselves stand-outs in the alternative rock universe by having the kahunas to mix punk and R&B with a straight face. With 1993’s Gentlemen, Dulli made the defining statement on failed love. On Black Love, he seems like he’s releasing all the pent-up frustration of the last album.

The rest of the band is up for the ride, sounding as tight as they ever have. While the Whigs are firmly rooted in alternative rock, they blend it with ’60s and ’70s R&B, not to imitate older artists, but to communicate the band’s true roots. On “Going To Town,” the group affixes a dirge-like guitar to a “Superstition”-era Stevie Wonder electric organ, as Dulli sings about taking his lover into town to burn it down.

The band has also learned how to write a decent pop hook, as shown on the album’s first single, “Honky’s Ladder.” And “Bulletproof” features the band’s most melodic writing to date, complete with vocal harmonies. On many of the more radio-friendly numbers here, the Whigs trade in the jarring tendencies of their previous albums for more accessible tones and arrangements.

But in many ways, the band has pushed itself on Black Love. The stunningly simple ballad “Night By Candlelight” is driven by elegant strings. And who would’ve thought The Who was an influence on the Whigs? All doubts are put to rest by the manic “Summer’s Kiss.” Maximum R&B indeed.

In the end, Dulli and the rest of the Afghan Whigs are both beautiful and evil. It’s the dynamic between the two that makes Black Love worthwhile.

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