1965 – IDS
Whigs keep grunge alive, kickin
Reviewed by Austin Considine
The Afghan Whigs is one of the few surviving bands from the early 1990’s Sub Pop grunge movement. Inevitably, times change. The flannels and ex-convict attire have been traded for tailored suits and greasy hair, but the Afghan Whigs have by no means turned in its brand of raunchy guitar rock for savoir faire. The grunge is still alive.
But do not expect Afghan Whigs patches to be appearing soon on the middle school backpacks of younger sisters everywhere. Its newest album, 1965 could be the new prototype for white soul music of the ’90s complete with more sex and seduction than Marvin G aye could shake a stick at.
Arguably one of the most blatantly chauvinistic rock bands today, the Afghan Whigs is still sticking to what it knows best on its latest offering. Singer/songwriter Greg Dulli has never been coy about his lustful obsessions in the past. With lines like, I wantcha so bad, after tonight/ I’ll never walk the same. In the album 1965, it’s obvious that this has not changed.
But in a day and age where the United States has become enamored of the sexual cover-ups of its own president, it is almost refreshing to hear the honesty with which Dulli sings, “Let’s get it on.” If there is one thing that can be said of the Afghan Whig s, it is that it is an honest band. The Whigs makes no pretensions of political correctness, but tells it how it really is to be controlled by sexual desire and self-destructive habits. The truth is not always pretty.
Musically, 1965 has expanded the Whigs’ range to include some new elements. Songs such as “John the Baptist” and “Uptown Again” come complete with beautiful orchestral arrangements without the pretension of a band such as Guns n’ Roses’ “November Rain” er a. The tracks “Somethin’ Hot,” “Citi Soleil” and “Neglekted” include soulful background female vocals like one would find backing up Bruce Willis in his brief attempt at a solo vocal career in the ’80s. Remember that? There’s a reason nobody does.
But where Bruce Willis and other would-be, white boy soul singers have failed, Dulli and the Afghan Whigs seem to make it work like a classic Stones song.
In fact, there are moments on 1965 where the Whigs takes some of the funk at which it hinted on earlier records to a new level of sultry groove. Songs such as “Neglekted” and “Omerta” are full of Parliament-like bass lines and horns. Yet again, it finds a way to pull it off.
The more traditional elements of the Afghan Whigs’ sound are still present. The bass guitar of John Curley is still deep and seductive like Dolemite. The addition of new drummer Michael Horrigan has done nothing to hinder the band, as Horrigan’s playing s tyle is very similar to that of previous drummer, Paul Buchignani. The vocals can still by no standards be considered smooth in an Al Green way, but they are smooth in a drunken pick-up lines way.
The distinctive and aggressive guitars of Dulli and Rick McCollum are still a driving force behind the music on 1965, especially on songs like “Somethin’ Hot” and in the slide guitar work in “The Slide Song.” Yet the guitars are not as much up front at al l times as they were in earlier LPs. In this way, 1965 has lost a touch of the intensity that was such an attraction in earlier records such as Gentleman or Congregation.
But the Afghan Whigs retained much of its appeal by expanding. The music is sensual, soulful and dark and not just so angst-ridden. It is like a David Lynch movie, one knows that something twisted is happening — it’s just not necessarily up front.
Still, one of the most endearing qualities of the band is the lyrics. Never outright condoning, but never condemning, Dulli’s lyrics have a wonderfully sincere quality regarding the darkest of feelings and desires. Sometimes the lyrics seem outright sadis tic, such as in “Neglekted,” when Dulli sings, Cuz when I do what I’m gonna do to you/ make sure you remember my name. Yet, at other times, Dulli’s lyrics are sorrowfully remorseful and desperate, as in “John the Baptist,” when he bellows, I’d give anythi ng to see you dance/ I’d give anything to see you smile.
Listening to the Afghan Whigs is almost like reading a Henry Miller book. It is disgusting and offensive on one hand, but on the other strangely compelling.