Thursday, February 09, 2006

Afghan Whigs' 1965

People either really, really hate the Afghan Whigs, or they really, really love the Whigs - there's few people in between. I'm of this exclusive group - I have neither passion nor disdain for them - but this is a group that incited an entire 'zine devoted to their hatred of them (entitled "Fat Greg Dulli," excerpts of which you can find here), while prompting one music columnist tell me Dulli was the "best voice in rock and roll today" (I'm not even paraphrasing).

It's not hard to see why: Greg Dulli, frontman, struts around with more swagger than anyone since Mick Jagger (well, maybe Prince...). The man is cocksure, and even the generally neutral Allmusic describes him as "pretentious," but it's used, assumedly deliberately, to good effect. If the Whigs' schtick is to fuse soul music back with rock and roll, it's certainly James Brown, Ike Turner, et al they're channelling, chauvinism, soul, and all.

"It's a man's, man's, man's world, but it would be nothing without a woman...": Dulli knows this in certain spades and it's most evident on 1965. The album hits on Dulli's usual themes of angst and love, the contradictory mix of self-loathing and egoism, but is amongst the band's most successful attempts at their bar band soul. Instead of showing their chops on old soul/rnb covers (as on their great cover of Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love" on the Beautiful Girls soundtrack), the Afghan Whigs finally have enough of their own material to achieve same, making 1965 one of their most cohesive albums since Gentleman. If fans loved them before, they'll love them that much more afterwards.

That said, the album also perfects the exact reasons why people hate the Afghan Whigs. Even if Dulli hasn't been a self-absorbed asshole before, he's certainly one now. Whatever character Dulli is playing - and one hopes that he is - it's a frustrating one, worthy just as much of contempt as he is of salvation. On 1965, Dulli propounds all the reasons why one can't love him, and while it might be easy to empathasize, it's just as easy to agree.

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