The reformed, but hopefully not too reformed, Afghan Whigs

The reformed, but hopefully not too reformed, Afghan Whigs

I read somewhere that this was nominated for cover version of the year. Not a bad choice. A slow build of a song that peaks in intensity after the lyrics have faded. It’s under-stated but threatens more to come. Dulli’s voice seems to constantly suggest something more extreme to come and yet manages to remain in check. How will a new song with the intensity of ‘What Jail is Like’ come across? Will one arrive? The promise of ‘Lovecrimes’ would suggest something even better to come.

‘Lovecrimes’ is one of two cover versions that the Afghan Whigs gave away online last year to celebrate their return to the live arena. Reports from these concerts suggest that they have been a wonderful return to form from a band that always had something left to prove. Back in the 1990s they were never quite the zeitgeist. As grunge took off they developed in popularity but were always outsiders from Cincinnati to the Seattle-based party. They sounded a bit southern and soulful at a time when it was better to be north-western and alienated, though they oozed the latter but in a  more adult and relationship-based form. They covered The Supremes’ ‘My World is Empty Without You’ with a wonderful injection of malice and yet the very idea of covering The Supremes would have sent most grunge fans running for the hills. Their album ‘Gentlemen’ from 1992 was superb and is highly recommended as a place to start and yet it never quite managed to fully get them into the mainstream public conception. Frontman Greg Dulli was viewed as difficult and his stage persona viewed as macho at a time when artists were supposed to scream to reveal their vulnerability. Lyrics may have suggested otherwise and perhaps his persona was more honest than others around the scene of the time. The somewhat ‘Debonair’ macho-loverman persona never seemed to be a problem for Nick Cave and/or his fans. Would The Afghan Whigs ever have got away with an album of murder ballads? What would they have done with Kylie? Subsequent albums seemed to see a shift towards diminishing relevance despite good reviews. Final album ‘1965’ was a wonderfully soulful ride that barely raised a ripple and seemingly got buried by their label. Nowadays it has become more and more expensive through Amazon UK – £16 at the moment when, just a few years ago, I recall it could be picked up from the same company for next to nothing. The increase suggests that the demand is out there for new material or even deluxe reissues. They could even reissue the promo ties and cufflinks that accompanied ‘Gentlemen’. Very smart they were too, though I’m not sure I’d stretch to £200 on ebay as some fool once did.

Grunge cufflinks? £200 a go.

Grunge cufflinks? £200 a go.

This glimpse of the new, 21st century Whigs along with ‘See and Don’t See’ (also available from their website) immediately sounds familiar to fans. Many of us were only fully made aware of the band through the soul covers novelty aspect at the time and took it from there. Lyrically, Ocean’s (you know I mean Frank and not Billy, right?) song immediately introduces sex and metaphorical bullets which seems appropriate for his interpreters. Perhaps the shuffle beat and strings seem a little dated, or do they hark back to the era where the Afghan Whigs got left behind and from which they now re-emerge? Either way, moody, light trip-hop will delight the dinner party crowd who still love their ‘real’ vinyl authenticity as it was when they started to buy music more seriously, or when they left it behind. Y’all know who you are. For me though, the only thing that spoils the oozing sexual tension of ‘Lovecrimes’ is the repeated “Murder, murder, murder she wrote” which suddenly brings an image of Angela Lansbury to mind and that’s really ruined the mood for personally speaking but, you know, whatever floats your boat.

LANSBURY!!!

LANSBURY!!!

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