The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen(1993)
Towards the end of ’94 and the start of ’95, things were a little strained for me. Failing friendships, awkward flings, the usual stuff that accompanies turning 21. I had to bail from where I was living and retreat to another part of the mountains, where I fortified myself with a lifestyle that probably wasn’t the healthiest, but it helped me lick the wounds and lock the doors and generally become invisible, which was what I needed. Music had always been a close friend, and I sought solace in albums that seemed to fit the mood of this transitional chapter. There was a lot of music I couldn’t bring myself to listen to coz it invited too many ghosts into my bunker. Luckily there were a couple of new bands that entered my world that were blank canvases in terms of association. Deus materialised with Worse Case Scenario. I thanked the gods for The Dirty Three. My Dylan obsession began in earnest. I discovered Nick Drake, Gram Parsons, Tom Waits, Rodriguez, The Band. Wilco would enter my sights in a year or so (along with my other underground kingpins of the post-Cobain era: Low, Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power, Blonde Redhead, Smog, Godspeed You Black Emperor!, Radiohead, Tortoise, Jackie-O Motherfucker, Boards of Canada…). And this album was on high rotation too. I’d acquired it a few months before but hadn’t really gotten around to delving into it properly, so it was ripe for this new phase. The Afghan Whigs were a band I didn’t know a great deal about at the time, but they’d been on Sub Pop so I’d decided to give ‘em a go. With this album (their fourth) the Ohio natives had signed to Elektra, and frontman/singer/songwriter Greg Dulli, (who was obviously going through his own emotional turbulence) seemed primed for a sonic exorcism of past ghosts. This became a private soundtrack to many nights, alone, staying up late, reading, thinking, staring at the carpet, holding mental court over various recriminations. The album is one long confessional…a conceptual ode to the id. Greg Dulli is having it out with himself, never sparing his psyche, which may be ready to collapse, or perhaps through the furnace of these songs rise up and Phoenix from the flames. I’m sure he was going through much darker times than I, but hey, it’s all relative. Bottom line is: I dug this album. The indignant sword being wielded around this album cuts both ways, but the guilt isn’t always easy to finger either. Everyone is as complex as the next person. And this complexity is mirrored in the music. Nothing is obvious. There are no easy answers. Perhaps this is why The Afghan Whigs never got the attention they deserved. They don’t offer pat responses or empty platitudes in catchy choruses or radio-friendly hooks. Instead they seem to offer us angular fragments of worlds as mysterious as the emotional gravity that keeps them spinning. There are clues, but no culprits. (Well, mea culpa is always apt.) Maybe it’s just the human condition. Some force born in us that sabotages our dreams, while the soul is left to investigate any leads through art. Who knows? One thing I do know: the way The Afghan Whigs missed riding the peak of the grunge wave along with the rest of the ‘alternative’ royalty is a major pop-cultural oversight. Still, time will be kind to The Afghan Whigs, and to Greg Dulli, who laid down a body of work that mixed the guitar-driven tropes of the early-90s grunge scene with new soulful shapes, new architecture for their poetic brand of rock.
by Decoy Spoon