It’s been 16 years since The Afghan Whigs last album. Frontman Greg Dulli has successfully navigated a post-Whigs career by fronting additional acts (The Twilight Singers, Gutter Twins) and through solo work. Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder and on the new Afghan Whigs album, the labor of love is heartfelt.
With reunions, I always wonder about missing pieces – especially when it comes to recorded material. Sometimes it doesn’t matter at all because some musicians are simply hired hands as opposed to actual collaborators in the make-up of segments of a discography. Steve Earle is no longer behind the drum kit and Rick McCollum (guitar) is also no longer a part of the current line-up. Let’s face it, The Afghan Whigs has always been Greg Dulli steering the ship, but the music borne out of the collaborations under the Whigs moniker has always been distinct and have made a lasting impression on myself and anyone interested in musical acts with true legacies.
The album’s lead-off, ‘Parked Outside,’ begins with a chugging, gritty – if not simple – beat. Dulli’s voice as good as ever. The guitar solo’s just over-the-top yet classic enough. Some signature hand claps along the top of the percussion signify this is a tightly wound affair. More groove find it’s way on ‘Matamoros,’ as Dulli raps in r&b timing a kiss-off letter to a lover he’s wiped his hands of as a middle-eastern guitar snakes it’s way around to an even stronger middle eastern bridge. The shortest track of the ten fades out in a wall of guitar before seguing into the piano and strings driven ‘It Kills’ which juxtaposes themes as Dulli agonizes of losing (‘It kills to watch you love another…’).
On first listen of the single, ‘Algiers,’ one is taken aback by it’s decidedly pastoral bend. With continued listens, the depth of the track and it’s placement on the album makes complete sense. Once again Dulli’s vocals bring everything into focus around the music. Another killer guitar solo (I know not which musician gets credit here between Jon Skibic, Marc McGuire or Dave Rosser) dots the track over the acoustic strumming.
While the first four tracks are a strong return to form (sprinkled with new tricks), the next six are largely a mediocre affair. The trilogy of albums from 1993-1998 (Gentlemen, Black Love and 1965) traversed the alternative rock landscape and updated R&B, Soul and Funk within their rock and roll ethos. The sonics employed on ‘Lost in the Woods,’ ‘The Lottery’ and the largely instrumental (if overtly U2-esque) ‘Can Rova,’ are stock, at best. ‘Royal Cream,’ however, stands up to the best within the bands previous oeuvre, with John Curley’s bass driving the song’s structure.
‘Royal Cream,’ segues neatly into ‘I Am Fire,’ a quiet, moody soulful piece. Album closer ‘These Sticks,’ is aided by the drama of the horn section and the building percussion and guitars. Still, the album heads out into its final coda with a whimper and one wonders – will this reunion continue or is this it? Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad to have Dulli back and creating music again with these cats. I just hope the creative juices continue to flow and, for as much as other reports out there indicate that they are being progressive in their songwriting, I hope they’re not resting on laurels like a good portion of Do To The Beast seems to do for stretches at a time. So while it’s a welcomed return – there remain question marks throughout…