1965 – PreAmp
Since the early 90’s, the Afghan Whigs have been churning out distinctively pungent tales of twisted love and bitterness. Unfairly tagged with the “grunge” label, the band was one of the first non-North Western additions to the roster of the now famous Sub Pop label. If you have followed the musical progression of the band, from the loud, trashy, post-punk, dissonant sounds of Up In It (1990), to the more polished, united, yet darkly bitter, Congregation (1992) and Gentleman (1994), to the vengeful, crime story-ish portraits on the commercially unsuccessful Black Love (1996), then you probably won’t be surprised by the sound of 1965 (1998).
Throughout all of these records, swaggering front man Greg Dulli and company have never hidden their love of all things soulful. With each record, the dissonant guitars and explosive minor chord structures have given way to the influences of the 60’s and 70’s. Falsetto background vocals, piano, and string arrangements have been increasingly featured per record. Coupled with the band’s one-year hiatus/breakup, and Dulli’s illegal substance indulgences, the ten songs of 1965 offer a break from the heavier issues that characterized the band’s previous music, at least on the surface.
The Whigs deliver a load of more relaxed, up-tempo songs. While older fans may miss the disturbed side and conceptual album patterns, faithful followers and newcomers should enjoy the soulful and lush arrangements. Songs like Uptown Again and John The Baptist provide the rump shaking elements of New Orleans – which obviously had a large influence on the sound of this record. 66, Citi Soleil, The Slide Song, and Crazy offer a sweeter, more unified, melodic sound for listeners’ ears. However, the opening track, and first single, Something Hot, is probably the weakest moment on the record and calls into question the use of this song. In concert, the song’s upbeat tempo and soaring backing vocals belie the tune’s simplicity. Admittedly, the Whigs are striving for more commercial acceptance this time around, though one must wonder about the choice to let this single set the tone for the album.
Dulli’s lyrics sometimes fall just short of their intended imagery on this record, but only when compared to previous works. 1965 is the Whigs sixth full-length record. John The Baptist and 66 may, or may not fail to excite or elicit images of sexual liaisons to the masses. However, Dulli’s crooning and overall messages have never sounded more confident and smoke-infested, especially on Neglected, where the well traveled singer tells a lover, and maybe the world, “You can fuck my body, baby. But please, don’t fuck my mind.” Now, while this will certainly will be the most quoted lyric from this record, there are more suggestive and telling words to be found. On The Slide Song, Dulli sings “Miles away and miles above, the vampire only wants a little love”. Hopefully, the drain of the past year or so hasn’t taken the starch out of him. As the controlling force behind the Whigs, the sting of his lyrics and vocal phrasing have indeed defined the Whigs sound and attitude. Evidence of Dulli’s personal turmoil couldn’t be more evident than the song Crazy. Set over some of the catchiest guitar work yet from the Whigs, Dulli asked “Whatever happened to your soul, I heard you sold it…To some old boy who lived uptown, who could afford it”. It would be musical justice if the Whigs got a couple good singles from this record, and sold some units. Fans should be glad that a band like this has persevered to produce another record. Though 1965 is a little softer, and much brighter, the clean production, use of horns, and acoustic guitars accent the melodies and party vibes the Whigs are offering — If it’s a party your looking for.
By Rich Lucas
April 10, 1999