1965 – Melody maker
It took more than a few stray Motown covers and an artfully placed wah-wah pedal for Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs to be hailed as the Grunge era’s finest soul band. It was a feeling more than a sound that the Whigs specialised in, with sex-bomb frontman Greg Dulli’s acrid, too-honest lyricism laying out the very real battlelines in what he only sometimes called “love”. And for all Dulli’s protestations that “1965” is a “rock” record, instead we get 11 more slices of soul in the hole.
“1965” follows the bitter bombshell of the “Gentlemen” LP and the smoulderingly funky “Black Love”, a tough heritage to maintain, but the Whigs more than do themselves justice, pouring out yet more unkind truths from their bleak, black hearts. And it is the unflinching quality of Greg’s lyrics which are always in the forefront of your mind, the no-bullshit crooner who famously uses his brain to sell his ass to you… The chorus of the opening “Something Hot” (competing with Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” for the finest opening track on an LP this year), Greg howling “I wanta get high, I wanta get nas-tay baybee”, sounds seriously menacing, instead of the blustery macho bollocks you might expect with such lyrics, cuz we know Greg’s walked these roads before, knows the dark destination they lead to – the spectre of guilt and regret is never more than a heartbreak away. Similarly, on the tender “66”, the gentle chorus “C’mon little rabbit” still sounds like the prelude to emotional turmoil, and is riveting for this.
But The Afghan Whigs are a band, and it would be criminal to ignore the musicians’ work on this LP. As ever, they are never obtrusive, hanging back and carving out the atmosphere – none of the wanky self-indulgence that can be rock’s calling card – and “Uptown Again” is perhaps their finest moment, stark chords rattling out a riff that sounds like the descent into moral Hell, while the woozy New Orleans feel of “Neglekted” is hot and sweet like jerk chicken…
Uncomfortably, brilliantly focussed stuff. As a great man once sang, “Its like soul, man…”