Afghan Whigs Say Goodnight
Last of the Sub Pop grungers call it quits
Compared with the much-ballyhooed recent demises of the Smashing Pumpkins and Rage Against the Machine (who say they will carry on despite losing their lead singer) the unexpected break-up of Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs this week will barely register a blip on the rock screen. However, after fourteen years and six albums, the Whigs were more than just a footnote in the annals of the Nineties alternative scene.
For starters, the Greg Dulli-fronted group was one of the last remaining acts from the legendary late Eighties Sub Pop roster that spawned the grunge movement and bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden. In addition, the Whigs’ stunning, brutally frank 1993 release Gentlemen brought the group to the cusp of stardom, earning rave reviews and airplay for the single “What Jail Is Like.” Despite two superb follow-up releases in 1996’s Black Love and 1998’s 1965, the Whigs never again came as close to mainstream acceptance.
Given the frustrating lack of success that led the band from Elektra to Columbia, the break-up would not have been surprising if not for the fact that just last September, around the time Dulli released his first side project under the name of the Twilight Singers, he said he was writing and recording new songs for the Whigs. In fact, he was adamant that the Twilight Singers did not spell the end of the Whigs, and that fellow Whigs John Curley and Rick McCollum had given him their blessing to do this project. Additionally, he spoke enthusiastically about the new songs, saying the Twilight Singers had reinvigorated his love of the Whigs’ more rock-oriented songs.
So what happened between September and Tuesday? A statement issued by the band’s label, Columbia, said it was a geographical issue: Dulli lives in Los Angeles, while Curley and McCollum are still in Cincinnati. A Columbia spokesperson elaborated, saying, “Greg had written a number of songs for another Afghan Whigs album and the group did convene in Cincinnati this past summer where they worked on recording a number of those tunes. So there are things in the can, but nothing close to being an album was ready. And afterwards it became clear that it was going to be very difficult to get an actual album all finished simply because two out of three of the core members had settled down and were not as movable as the third member. Thus this parting of the ways.”
(February 8, 2001)