1965 – MTV
The Afghan Whigs were supposed to be stars. The raucous Cincinnati band with the ’70s-soul obsession did the indie thing, earned the buzz and jumped to the majors with the awesome 1993 effort, Gentlemen, featuring the slithery single “Debonair.” Hugeness loomed around the corner, but Black Love, the solid, seamy, libido-powered jaunt that followed in 1996, failed to launch the band into the platinum stratosphere. So here we are, one commercial flop and about a million years away from the alt-indie-grunge revolution that initially spawned the band. The question is, do we give a damn anymore?
Enter the inexplicably titled 1965, the Whigs’ sixth full-length since 1988, in which we immediately find uber-dramatic vocalist Greg Dulli acting out his lady-killer soul-man role as if he’s the suburban Barry White. The problem is, when White, or Isaac Hayes, or Marvin Gaye sings a line like “I want to get high, I want to get next to you,” it usually ignites groovy, love-den impulses. In Dulli’s world, though, the sentiments (from the riff-rocking opener “Somethin’ Hot”) are merely lecherous, and about as sexy as the Kenneth Starr Report. Even more uncomfy is the brief interlude, “Sweet Son of a Bitch,” that sounds like little more than the recorded audio from a bedroom assault. Evocative? Well, sure, but it casts a squeamish shadow over every moment in which Dulli voices sentiments like, “I lie awake and dream about your smile and the way your ass shakes.” Excuse me while I wash this sleaze off.
Elsewhere, though, we find a band up to their otherwise-extraordinary old tricks, whipping up quite the grand musical tension, where dense guitar chords and other bits of ambience, shot-gun-loaded bass lines and perpetual motion rhythms serve as a canvas for Dulli’s melodramas.
“The Slide Song” is a somber slow-burn, with steadied swells of accelerated tempo and fat slide guitar. The album-closing “Omerta” is strung-out rock splendor with a searing coda. And “Crazy,” the collection’s hook-laden highlight, features typically engaging Dulli (“therapy… pharmacy… crazy,” he sings of his lost-soul character).
These are the songs and the moments that make you glad, despite everything, that the Whigs are still around.
— Neal Weiss