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Calvin Bush explores the particular splendour that is The Afghan Whigs.
She stretches out in bed and purrs, delicate frame covered only by the barest of sheets. In her eyes, a sultry post-coital abandon that beckons for more. He. perched on the far edge of the bed, is having none of it. His gaze is sideways, evasive, pensive, wondering how in the hell he ever got into this mess, despairing of getting the hell out without causing a scene. By the next frame, he’s got his trousers on, his fists are clenched, the tension palpable. in the final frame, he’s on his way out, anguished with remorse and yet slyly oozing that classically male sense of achievement that such encounters bring. Thus the cover of The Afghan Whigs’ fourth and towering album, Gentlemen.
Except that he’s seven. And she can’t be much older. In the torrid world of the Cincinnatti rockers, where relationships are twisted, tormented, bitter- sweet affairs like falling in love with over-proof firewater, they start ’ern young. Welcome to the gorgeous, mercifully un-grunge-ous claustrophobic boy-meets girl cauldron of chief of Whigdom, Greg Dulli.
‘1 did that picture with my friend Bill, he took the pictures, but I kinda set it up,’ croaks a gruff Dulli from somewhere in Malrno, Sweden. ‘In a way, i was just trying to put children in an adult situation. i mean, this album is pretty much about grown-up situations anyway.’
Well, mainly one, actually. Male-female relationships and the troubles they bring. Familiar territory for sure. The skill of Gentlemen, however, lies in the way, ’midst its searing post-grunge howl and primal rock blues, every song maps familiar traumas in unfamiliar ways.
‘The way I see it,’ continues Dulli, ‘I think the difference between men and women is so great, why try to change it? It’s what makes it interesting anyway. Men and women are polar opposites, but
they need each other. It’s the whole yin-yang, love- 5 hate, black-white, peace-war thing.’
And The Afghan Whigs, who, according to legend, met in prison after a too-raucous college party, thrive on the fissile tension, the yawning chasm that lies irreconcilany between the two. Dulli was once a whey-faced altar-boy when growing up in Cincinnatti. but it’s the brutal candour of songs like the magniﬁcently doomed ‘When We Two Paned’ and the excruciatingly frank ‘Be Sweet‘ (opening lines: ‘Ladies. let me tell you about myself/l got a dick for a brain . . . She wants to love/And I still wan! rofuck') that now serve as his confessional. So just how personal is Gentlemen?
‘lt’s about 50-50, but the 50 per cent of me is in every single song. There are definitely certain songs on there that are inspired by someone else, and then in turn I would put my own experience into it.’
The Whigs aren’t exactly new to such searing emotional insights. Back in 1990, they'd already transcended the sub-Sabbath of 94’s grunge generation with their Sub Pop single ‘Retarded’. But that was then, when the Seattle label rocked the global roost and the only limit was . . . well, Sub Pop, actually. Back to Greg.
“Upon lf”, which was our ﬁrst Sub Pop single, was '
definitely a hard punk kind of record. But i think from Congregation (their third LP and second on Sub Pop) on, we were busy exploring other avenues. When we ﬁrst signed to them, we were very young
! and i think we were being pushed into a certain kind
the Afghan Whigs
of sound. ’Cos we had hard songs and soft songs, but they pretty much had us leave all the soft songs off the album.’
Now that they’re signed worldwide to Elektra/Blast First, such stylistic constrictions have been removed. allowing Dulli free rein to pour the healing balm of purest soul music‘s homiest exponents (Marvin Gaye, Percy Sledge, Curtis Mayﬁeld) into the open— red sores of their sky-kissin’ riffarama.
‘l've always been into soul music, yeah, I love it.’ Dulli muses. ‘I mean, it started from the minute I started listening to the records my mom used to play around the house when l was younger. She’s only seventeen years older than me, so she always had these great records around the house that I would listen to. She was a Motown freak, but she was also way into Al Green and Curtis Mayﬁeld. I can even remember taking her copy of the Shaft soundtrack into elementary school with me. S’funny, because i just turned her onto Prince, and she really digs him now.’
Searing, scorching riff-wielding corporate suckers for soul music. if you’re sick of the stick-in-the-mud morass of tight-blinkeer slack-flannelled rock bands out there, as the man Curtis could well have said, move on up to The Afghan Whigs.
The Afghan Whigs play The Venue, Edinburgh on Sun I 3.
St Valentine’s Day may bring some unexpected liaisons, but romance a trois with Gesualdo, The Beatles and William Sweeney is surely stretching
Cappella Ilova’s ‘All You Ileed Is love’ choral concerts In the middle of the
In the first half, madrigals by the Italian aristocrat who murdered his first wife after catching her and her lover taking the St Valentine’s spirit a bit too far, are followed by close- hannony lennon and McCartney. In the second, there is William Sweeney’s ‘An Seachnadh’, a work for sixteen
stems from Sweeney. ‘It’s a marvellous work, such a profound piece of music, which I would describe as a vocal symphony.’ Drawing some of Its inspiration from Celtic traditions, it takes the listener through the history of a passion irorn beginning to end. In his exploration of relationships, Macneacail’s poetry moves through Iove’s idealism, obsession, fulfilment, disillusionment, destruction and
immediately came to mind. And then we found some superb arrangements of Beatles ballads.’ In performance, a group of five singers will sing the Gesualdo, to be answered by a group of eight for the Beatles numbers. ‘it’s a bit of match-making which may or may not come off,’ says Tavener, ‘and a bit like throwing two of your friends together and wondering what will happen.’ (Carol Main)
Cupid’s bow just a bit too far. liowever, singers with poetry by Aonghas healing. Cappella love are at Greyfriars Kirk,
In the liberated yet ever more themed Macneacail. ‘We thought It would be interesting to Edinburgh on Fri 11, Stevenson IIaII, ; world of concert programming, this According to the group’s manager, do something similar for the first half,’ Glasgow on Sat 12 and Itothes Ilall, I odd combination forms the basis of Rebecca Tavener, the programme all says Tamil". ‘8"! Waldo Glenrothes on Sun 20. '
0N F I LLOWING PAGES: THE MISSION O SEEFEEL O CYPRESS HILL .
The List 1 1—24 February 1994 27