FDF Vol 1 Issue 99 - The Afghan Whigs - Gentlemen
Album - Gentlemen
Artist - The Afghan Whigs
Key Players - Greg Dulli (vocals, guitar), Rick McCollum (guitar), John Curley (bass), Steve Earle (drums)
Produced By - Greg Dulli
Release Date - October 5, 1993
What caused me to blow off the dust? - This might go against what FDF is all about, but this disc NEVER has any dust on it. And if it is in your collection and your copy is dusty...shame on you!
Overview - The Afghan Whigs (not to be confused with the current alterna-rock band called The Whigs) were formed in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1986 and became the first band not from the Pacific Northwest to sign to the legendary Sub Pop label. Their early work, Up In It and 1992's Congregation were more on the aggressive side in terms of sound and speed. Dulli's love of old school R&B and Motown was really first evident on the Whigs' covers EP, Uptown Avondale and it was this R&B/rock sound that would be heavily showcased on later Whigs offerings, particularly on 1996's Black Love and their swan song, 1965. Between Congregation and Black Love, however, came Gentlemen, a CD that doesn't really fall totally into either the blistering rock of the early releases or the sultry soul noir of the later offerings. The band ultimately split in 2001, citing geographical distances between band members as a reason. The band reunited briefly in 2006 to put together a greatest hits package which included two new tracks.
FDF Comments (aka the songs) - The first taste of the arresting and disturbing nature of the disc comes before you even put the disc in the player. Gentlemen's album art is one of the most jarringly thought-provoking in memory. No text appears at all and you are left to contemplate its ambiguous meaning of its image all before you near a single note. But that first single note you hear isn't a note at all. It's actually the sound of wind which segues into the delicate, yet foreboding "If I Were Going", which serves as a prelude to the twisted tales of addiction of the flesh and of the needle that follow. As the tune fades away, Earle's infectious drum lead to the title track begins, softly at first, until the proper track change. Then, it becomes louder and the band joins in with a swirling, cacophonous sound upon Dulli's verbal cue, "Now!" "Gentlemen", with its ultimate ironic title, is the perfect true opener here. Lyrically and musically (with a great wah-wah-driven solo from McCollum), it showcases a band incredibly ahead of its prior self and its peers of the time. "Be Sweet" follows with some R-rated lyrics from Dulli. The musically sparse verses set the stage again for an amazing noisy chorus from the band. Seemingly taking on the personae of the abusers and the abused throughout the disc, Dulli is a master of controlling the listener's emotions, eliciting sympathy and frustration, often at the same time. "Debonair" then kicks off with a great guitar lead and superb bass accents from Curley. Again, the band's ability to weave jaw-dropping sonic tapestries is in the forefront. Dulli's desperate screams, vacillating between regret and conceit, coupled with the strong band effort makes "Debonair" one of the strongest of a disc that hasn't a single sub-par offering. If the vocal melody sounds familiar, it's because Dulli introduced it, though more sublimely, in "If I Were Going". Dulli continues his mesmirizing lyrics ("Hear me know and don't forget/I'm not the man my actions would suggest") while displaying his narrator's conflict ("I must admit when so inclined/I tend to lose it than confront my mind"). A slide guitar and a more down-tempo Whigs introduce "When We Two Parted" as Dulli's slightly off-key crooning spin further tales of addiction's underbelly amidst some of the albums strongest lyrics ("If I could have only once heard you scream to feel you were alive instead of watching you abandoning yourself"). Another of the strongest of the strong, "Fountain and Fairfax", along with an ultra-cool guitar lead from McCollum, drives the disc further ahead. Not to be under-appreciated here, both Earle and Curley's rhythm section is always on display, but really are the heartbeat of this particular song. The musical interlude is complex and layered (with some strings) and Dulli's lyrics, again, crushing and intense (Angel, I'm sober/I got off that stuff just like you asked me to./Angel, come closer/so the stink of your lies sinks into my memory). A piano drives "What Jail Is Like", which would make you incorrectly anticipate a reprieve from the heavy subject matter. But the band continues to hit home run after home run musically here, as Dulli howls more fantastic lyrics ("You think I'm proud of this/well maybe, but the shame you never lose/Infatuated with a lunatic/and cornered by the muse). "My Curse" kicks off with a lazy acoustic guitar before guest vocalist Marcy Mays' warble picks up the power where Dulli last left off. The band, for the nth time, masters the whole soft/loud/soft/loud thing gradually building the mood before delivering the apex in dramatic fashion. The disc winds down with a straight-out sinister rocker, "Now You Know", complete with insane drumming from Earle and great fretwork from McCollum (more great lyrics: Since you're aware of the consequences/I can pimp what's left of this wreck on you/Bit into a rotten one now didn't you/Now I can watch you chew) and the methodically and pretty ballad "I Keep Coming Back", which is actually a soul cover originally done by Tyrone Davies and, surprisingly, doesn't sound a bit out of place on this borderline concept album. Closing the disc, oddly enough, is an instrumental called "Brother Woodrow (Closing Prayer)". Deeply complex and bewildering (a concept album about addiction closes with a soul cover and an instrumental?!), it is a fine end as it perfectly demonstrates the abilities and maturities of the band as a whole. As the last notes of "Woodrow" fade away, you are literally spent. And all from listening to a record.
Where are they now? - Greg Dulli has remained very busy since the demise of the Whigs, making guest appearances on many records and forming and remaining active in the R&B-infused Twilight Singers in 2000. That excellent band has released four discs and two EPs since then. Dulli also released a solo disc, Amber Headlights, in 2005. He currently is a member of the Gutter Twins (along with Mark Lanegan). Their Saturnalia CD came out earlier this year.
John Curley currently plays bass for the Staggering Statistics. Rick McCollum is the main man in Moon Maan and Steve Earle has gotten out from behind the kit to front the band Earle Grey.
FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - I managed to see the Afghan Whigs twice on the tour for their final album, 1965. Both shows were at the Paradise in Boston. The first was Nov. 6, 1998 and the last was about three months later, on February 14, 1999. Greg Dulli is an amazingly electric front man and the band was super-tight both times. Though a little light on "Gentlemen" tunes, the setlists were great, with a powerful rendition of "My Curse" one of many highlights. Definitely an outstanding live experience.
FDF Overall Take - Not to sound like a whack job, but I must have listened to this disc a thousand times over and, in reviewing it for this, I literally got chills during the songs. The lyrics are nothing short of brilliantly disturbed poetry and the music is so utterly fulfilling and textured, it is nothing short of perfect. The Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen is truly an iconic offering not just for the alterna-rock era of the 90s, but for the entire modern music era. It's ability to be disturbingly beautiful as well as raucous and sinister makes for a conflicting and sometimes challenging listen, if only for the emotions it stirs up. But calling this one of the best 10 discs of the thousands I own is nothing short of the truth. And calling it a vitally important disc in the annals of modern music is absolutely no hyperbole.
Check out some Music
***all mp3's have been removed***
When We Two Parted
Fountain and Fairfax
All the tracks were taken from "Gentlemen" which you can buy here
Zimba Espace Club, Milan, Italy
January 30, 1994
MP3s have been removed.
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