I can't say that I was ever a huge Afghan Whigs fan. I mean, I'd liked certain releases in the past but I wasn't really actively following the band's ups and downs. However, I can say that I'm now going to do just that as the band's new album, In Spades, out on Sub Pop on Friday, is just so good that to not see what comes next would be to rob yourself of something special.
Here on In Spades, The Afghan Whigs -- Greg Dulli, guitarists Dave Rosser and Jon Skibic, drummer Patrick Keeler, multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson, and Whigs co-founder/bassist John Curley -- unveil a kind of music that easily defies simple genre categorization. From the funky strut of opener "Birdland" and onto the weird Zeppelin-recalling "Arabian Heights", a listener is reassured that the fire of this band never diminished. That's a cornball thing to say but The Afghan Whigs have survived and outlasted so many waves -- college rock to post-grunge to indie and on and on -- and yet they've somehow managed to retain the ability to make material that sounds so fresh and original even now. Sure, bits of "Copernicus" reveal a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fix on Dulli's part, and "Light as a Feather" recalls both the Stones and (oddly) early Aerosmith, but to nitpick on the influences seeping through the tunes here is to ignore the consummate skill that Dulli and crew have in making such soulful -- in a real way -- and fiery songs. "I Got Lost" sounds like "Desire"-era U2 done right, an approximation of white boy blues done with a real sense of conviction and intent.
And that is perhaps why In Spades is so, so good. Older and wiser now, Dulli is no longer some young upstart trying to approximate the sound of some legendary soul singer; he is, in a weird way, a legendary soul singer and he's imbued the 10 tracks here on In Spades with a helluva lot of emotion. There's nothing ironic or detached in this music, and nothing fake either. Dulli and the players have created what could be their most consistent release.
[Photo: Chris Cuffaro]