THE AFGHAN WHIGS: DO TO THE BEAST
Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine and Soundgarden have all proven that you can follow a successful reunion tour with a credible album release, and now it’s the turn of The Afghan Whigs with Do To The Beast. Who says you can’t home again, either? Don’t tell that to the First Sons of Cincinnati rock (sorry The National, we have to tell it like it is), because after twenty-two years and spells with both Elektra and Columbia Records, The Whigs have come back home to where it all started… Sub Pop records. Like so many before them, The Afghan Whigs completed a successful victory lap reunion tour, but there was no talk of making new music until the unusual pairing of them playing with Usher at a SXSW show in 2013. Apparently that evening provided enough inspiration for the band to record their first album in sixteen years.
The band originally disbanded in 2001 after fifteen years together, a time during which they somehow managed to craft a sound that was equal parts rock, soul and R&B and more importantly…uniquely their own. They stood out all the more in an era that saw rock regress to, at times, the lowest common denominator and with precious few willing to swim against the rising tide of grunge. Simply put: when Pearl Jam was covering The Who, The Afghan Whigs were covering The Supremes!
Now some will argue that you can’t call it an Afghan Whigs record when only one half of the original band (main man Greg Dulli and bass player John Curley) are back for the occasion. Others have questioned why it’s an Afghan Whigs record when it could have just been a Twilight Singers (his current recording project featuring a revolving cast of characters) album? My answer to that (and Dulli’s, for what it’s worth) is simply this: Greg Dulli wrote all of the lyrics and most of the music in The Whigs’ catalog, if he wants to claim it as an Afghan Whigs album and restart the band as a recording entity…then who is to say he shouldn’t? For the record: The Whigs haven’t had a permanent drummer since the Gentlemen record of 1993 and while original guitarist Rick McCollum was on board for the reunion tour, Dulli has relegated him to the sidelines to deal with his “personal issues”. In their place we have musicians that Dulli has collaborated with in The Twilight Singers, as well as help from a diverse array of artists, including: Johnny Najera (Usher’s musical director...whatever that means?), Clay Tarver (Chavez) and R&B artist Van Hunt.
Beast’s first track is entitled “Parked Outside” and it is the heaviest song in The Afghan Whigs discography. With its multiple layers of guitars and Dulli’s cocksure pronouncement of “If they’ve seen it all / Show ‘em something new”, “Parked Outside” is a grand opening salvo from the reborn troop.
As per usual with an Afghan Whigs release, the musical direction takes a sharp turn with the next couple of tracks. “It Kills”, the murder ballad of the album, may give the band a chance to breathe, but it’s Van Hunt’s vocal contribution that bleeds through the speakers while Dulli is explaining how “It kills to watch you lover another”.
First single, and album standout, “Algiers” proves to be instantly attention grabbing with its spaghetti western strum and its explosion of castanets. We have heard many flavours from them throughout the years, but we have never heard them sound this exotic and enticing.
“Matamoros” has a guitar that sounds almost as sinister as the story that surrounds the Mexican town that the song is named after. A quick Wikipedia search will tell you that Matamoros was the scene of ritualistic deaths in the 1980s…perfect writing fodder for Dulli.
Between 1993 and 1998 The Afghan Whigs released three of the finest records of the 1990’s with Gentlemen, Black Love and 1965; perhaps the highest compliment that can be paid towards Do To The Beast is that it sounds like any or all of those records at one time. Without a doubt there is a longing to hear how deposed guitarist Rick McCollum’s sleazy guitar lines would have augmented Greg Dulli’s songwriting but beggars can’t be choosers and with Do To The Beast, all we can do is beg for more!
- Johnny Hooper