1965 – Sonicnet

Losing Their Derision …
Dulli pays homage to Whigs’ hero Marvin Gaye by turning out some sultry soul numbers …

By Colin Devenish
Sometimes the best way out of a rut is to burrow a bit deeper. The Afghan Whigs lived on this philosophy during Gentlemen and Black Love, where the sense of claustrophobia and doom in the lyrics was almost palpable. Frontman Greg Dulli laced the most tender of love songs with malice and poison that made it seem as though the best-laid plans are not worth making.

But with their latest album and a new label, a heretofore unfamiliar sense of optimism has infected the band. And rather than digging in the dirt, the Whigs are seeking higher ground. Recorded at King’s Way, a mansion-cum-studio in New Orleans, 1965 (the band’s sixth LP) finds the foursome hitting its stride, with a little help from the Big Easy’s finest — the Royal Orleans Revue — on keyboards and horns.

The sultry swank of “Crazy” opens with the clink of glasses in a bar and the kind of cackling and background noise that provide the soundtrack in favorite watering holes everywhere. Swapping his patented sneer for something that smacks of sincerity, singer Dulli croons over toned-down guitars, with Alex Chilton of Big Star and Box Tops fame sidling his smooth backing vocals underneath. Dulli’s at his seductive best with the sassy come-on of “66,” with a hip-hop handclap opening that gives way to the singer’s alternately demanding/ pleading/ mournful vocals as he tries to convince the woman at the other end of the bar to go home with him. Although in the past Dulli’s often been the guy with the no-good gleam in his eye, “66” is playful and flirtatious, rather than desperate and cynical.

On past Whigs records, the sound of a match being struck that opens 1965 most likely would have been lit by a private investigator sparking a torch at a crime scene. Combining a love for all things sinister with guitar-rock and ’70s soul has always been the Afghan Whigs’ bag, but this time the sulphurous strike at the start of “Somethin’ Hot” is most likely intended to light the candles that will flicker over a cozy dinner for two.

Stripping away the piercing guitar sounds that still creep up in songs such as “The Slide Song,” Dulli slinks to the mic for the straight soul of “Neglekted” and “Omerta” (the bassline of which recalls an early Whigs cover of the Supremes song “My World Is Empty Without You”). Here Dulli coaxes and cajoles in a silky tone that would have made band hero Marvin Gaye proud.

As though they were recording in a vacuum and not in a mansion, the Afghan Whigs have turned a blind eye to the disposable music dominating the Top 40 and come up with an album of wonderfully anachronistic songs. By plumbing the depths of their influences, they have managed to dig their way out of the hollow, and to find themselves on top once again.

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