(September 27, 1998)
Overall Rating: ++++-
How fitting that Whigs' singer Greg Dulli is an aspiring actor and filmmaker as well as a rock musician. Since the Sub Pop years, he's conjured a theatrical image for the Whigs" through their old-fashioned suit uniforms and B-side covers of soul tunes such as "The Dark End of the Street" and "Come See About Me" as the baddest, blackest band in Eddie Vedder's white alt-rock world. Like Quentin Tarantino, who swiped blaxploitation trappings for his oeuvre, Dulli used his R&B image to separate the Whigs from the flanneled hordes in the early 90s, and this has carried Dulli and crew's bad-boy street cred since.
That’s not to say Afghan Whigs is a bad band—quite the opposite. The 1993 album Gentlemen—full of emotional abuse and sexual dysfunction—was Dulli at his most screwed-up, most raw, and most soulful. But now on 1965, after a much-publicized treatment for depression, the always crotch-oriented Dulli plays the plain ol’ lusty lover—an unimaginative Marvin Gaye, his lines replete with “baby,” “I want it,” “shake it,” and other tired pleas as he lures his ladies to bed.
However, it’s a great performance for the band and for Dulli the hook maker, who’s added horns and backup singers to flesh out the normally edgy sound. Album openers “Somethin’ Hot,” “Crazy,” “Uptown Again,” and “66” form the most energetic set of songs thus far from the Whigs—here they capture the R&B/soul energy they tout. Although guitarist Rick McCollum commanded a lead-guitar spotlight on Gentlemen and Black Love, he seems to take more of an ensemble approach on 1965. Buying into the soul image, some critics lazily compare him to Sax session picker Steve Cropper; it’s an insult both to the virtuosic Cropper and to McCollum, who’s carved out a style of his own with his languid slide work.
Dulli tones things down for the second half of the album, a mostly successful set of seduction songs. “The Slide Song” captures all of the lusty aims in its fluid, malleable tempo. “John the Baptist,” the most radio-oriented song of the set, is a bit much with its cavalcade of strings, horns, and wailing backing vocals. 1965 is a blockbuster, but it’s not Shakespeare. Great action, as they say, but bad dialogue.
The Afghan Whigs (homepage)
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