buy the afghan whigs in spades

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New Album: In Spades

1965 – Uncut

* * * * * (a classic)
Triumphant sixth album from soul-grunge bruisers. Album of the month… For those of us with record collections almost entirely composed of records by American artists, the Britpop era had about as much appeal as a bowl of two-day-old dog vomit. Mercifully, the gods have finally taken pity on us and given us some remarkable American albums in recent months. Now they open the heavens and give us the sixth album by The Afghan Whigs. And, holy smokes, are we grateful.

1965 is the glorious album the Whigs have always threatened to make. They recorded it in Daniel Lanois’ studio in New Orleans, and it sounds like it. This record is so hot, so sensual, so intimate, so raw, so ripe, so humid that it will surely transform Greg Dulli from a one-time Sub Pop star into the Barry White of white boy guitar rock.

Dulli and the Whigs released two EPs in 1992 that offered their interpretations of soul classics by The Supremes, Percy Sledge and Al Green. Immediately, it was clear that they were anything but a bog-standard grunge band. They experimented with soul influences on their grunge-rock template, Gentlemen (1993), and on Black Love (1996) to dazzling effect, but we knew they could do it better. And now, with a new label, a new drummer, a gospel backing singer, a brass section, strings, keyboards and Dulli’s on-going obsession with the darker side of male-female relationships, they’ve found the soul-rock G-spot. Imagine the mid-way point between Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marvin Gaye and the Stones at their dirtiest, and you’re on the right track.

The album kicks off with the striking of a match and then a suitably incendiary guitar riff. Dulli comes in whispering, “Got some stuff? Yeah? Meet you in the bathroom.” It’s the perfect start to an album about deceit, mystery, lust and betrayal. For Dulli, life’s pleasures (sex, drugs, drinking, love) are all rooted in evil and temptation. It’s no big surprise that he was raised a Catholic. The songs all have a cinematic quality, and more often than not a slow-motion feel to them: “You walked in / Just like smoke…Are you waiting for my move? / Well, I’m making it.”

On every song, the promise of sex is wrapped up in getting high. “Come on / Come on / Come on, little rabbit / Show me where you got it / ‘Coz I know you got a habit.” This is the hook for “66”, a sure-fire American radio hit which starts with an acoustic riff straight out of the John Cougar Mellencamp songbook before breaking into a Spector-ish wall-of-anthemic-sound. It also features Rick McCollum’s haunting slide guitar (also the highlight of “Slide Song”) and Susan Marshall’s gospel-inspired backing vocals (omnipresent on this album). The narcotic “Crazy” (which features exquisite backing vocals from Alex Chilton) takes the circular swirl of Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and cooks it over a love-gone-bad lyric derivative of the previous two albums. “What’s gonna happen to you now? / Therapy? / Pharmacy?”

If you married Scorsese and Ferrara’s Catholic guilt to the mood of an obvious New Orleans movie like Angel Heart, then you’d be halfway to understanding this album. Throw soul, funk, gospel, wall-of-sound atmospherics, Motown smooch, Seventies boogie, arena rock, swamp-funk, grunge- funk, hell, even BB King into the mix, and you’re getting close. Add heartache, a crippling libido, some beautiful women, bad drugs, a betrayed lover, hot sticky nights, a hint of voodoo and a nagging conscience, and you’ve got it.

The much-prayed-for American invasion starts here.

Nick Johnstone.

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