These days, Greg Dulli plays in the excellent The Twilight Singers
, which he started as a side project in the late 90s, giving him something to do when he wasn’t playing with The Afghan Whigs
, his most successful band.
The group were formed in the mid-80s by Dulli (the band’s principal songwriter, as well as its vocalist and rhythm guitarist), Rick McCollum as a guitarist, Steve Earle on the drums and John Curley on bass. The band’s line up changed before their 2001 split (after recording Gentleman
the band’s drummer was replaced), but the original line-up was still present on this, their first good album, and really the beginning of the second period of the band’s career as they moved in a more soulful direction.
The band’s first two albums were pretty lame, to be honest. They are generally forgotten about, and with good reason as well. Initially the band sounded like The Replacements
. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but the band sounded too similar. Their music also lacked the ‘edge’ that made the ‘Mats brilliant. This is the album (the band’s second and last for Sub-Pop records before moving to Elektra for their best album, Gentleman
) where the band really became great.
The album consists of 11 ‘real’ tracks and a filler song for an introduction. “Her Against Me" sounds quite unlike anything else on this record. It’s slow moving, with lazy drumming and long, drawn out chords coming from the guitar, with a woman singing over the top. However, the mood is right for the remainder of the album.
The album’s sound isn’t a hugely common one, which is quite surprising one. A lot of the guitar work and emphasis on rhythm seems to be drawn from R & B and soul music, and the band place more importance on the bass than many rock bands do. The drumming consistently provides a steady but always interesting rhythm.
The album’s mood is a fairly dark one. Don’t listen expecting anything particularly upbeat here. Themes of addiction, failed relationships, guilt and …sex slavery run throughout the album. The music that accompanies these lyrics is also dark, and some songs, thanks mostly to the guitar work of McCollum and Dulli, pretty sleazy.
The album’s religion theme is evident on a couple of songs-the title track and the interesting cover of “The Temple" from Jesus Christ Superstar
. The former seems as if it was written from God’s point of view (‘I am your creator/Come with me my congregation’), which is interesting if nothing else. The song begins on a clean descending guitar riff, before ripping open into a more energetic distorted guitar riff, with solid support coming from Earle and Curley. The album’s dark edge is present here-not only does the music have a foreboding mood, but Dulli’s lyrics (Get up I’ll smack you back down) are hardly pleasant.
“The Temple" is one of the album’s low points. It is constructed like the play, with one person as Jesus and others as the crowd. This just plain doesn’t work and is incredibly annoying, which is a shame as the music underneath is up to the Whigs’ normal high standards.
The album’s opening trio of ‘proper’ songs-“I’m Her Slave", “Turn On The Water" and “Conjure Me" are all pretty dark pieces of work. The latter two contain funky riffs, some militant drumming and some metaphoric lyrics (the former especially), obviously about failed relationships. Both songs are also fairly catchy-“Water" has a nice guitar hook, and “Conjure Me" has a good vocal one. “I’m Her Slave" is just as energetic as these two, but far different lyrically (‘I’m her slave/But I don’t need no chains’, ‘Wrap your love around my neck’), and also shows the direction the band would head in next more than the others. Built upon a guitar riff made up of octaves (the Whigs did this often), the song is dark descent into a world of ‘different’ sexual behaviour, one that you get the impression Dulli may know too well from his lyrics. The song however, has some steady drumming and a nice bass line from Curley. Dulli’s lyrics on the subject are also fantastic.
I grouped those tracks together because they are three of the strongest tracks on the album. Starting with “Kiss The Floor" and ending with “The Temple", the album’s mid-section isn’t as good as its bookends, and get can get boring. “Kiss The Floor" has some brilliant guitar work, but the drumming is boring and Dulli’s vocal delivery is grating. “This Is My Confession" offers a nice stylistic break and makes up for Dulli’s poor delivery in “Kiss The Floor", but still doesn’t feel like anything special. Judging by the intro “Dedicate It", with a sliding guitar riff, a steady drum beat and nice bass line sounds promising, but ultimately is too bare in the verses to be truly great.
The album does, fortunately go out on a high note. “Tonight" offers a relaxing break, like “This Is My Confession" did, but is more interesting. Although Dulli’s delivery is grating and too high, the song is so different musically from the rest of the album, gentle acoustic guitar strums throughout and a slow tempo that it offers a nice change of pace regardless. The way it slowly builds up is sublime.
The album’s last track, a bonus track, is perhaps my favourite Whigs song ever. “Miles Iz Ded" (spelling errors intentional) is a fantastic end to a good album. Starting off on a repeating guitar riff, the song starts off on the quiet end of things, with some nice ‘ooo’-ing from Dulli, before leaping into a heavier chorus, the first time which has no lyrics. The verse repeats, but when the chorus comes back round Dulli starts yelling ‘Don’t forget the alcohol/ooo baby’ and it just feels right
. The song doesn’t let up for its 5 minute duration, and is just brilliant.
may not be the Whigs’ best work, and not their most accessible, but it is a great album, and one that is underappreciated at that. In spite of a few low points, it really is a wonderful listen.