To say that the Afghan Whigs are a favourite of mine is a bit of an understatement. Greg Dulli is pretty much a musical hero of mine. He was the driving force behind the Afghan Whigs, the only musician other than Dave Grohl to play on the debut Foo Fighters album, faked being a Beatle along with Grohl, Thurston Moore and Mike Mills for the soundtrack to Backbeat, teamed with Mark Lanegan as The Gutter Twins, stuck out a couple of solo records, and can now be found heading up The Twilight Singers. To my ears he has never released a bad record. You can disagree, but be warned it may end in a fistfight.
The Afghan Whigs are back together now, I’ve not yet managed to see the regrouped band, but every report I’ve read has been pretty glowing. For the rest of this post though I’m going to try and give you a quick (warning: it will not be quick) introduction to the band’s music, and try not to ramble on too much about how much I love them.
Well dressed in black or in finely tailoured suits when their contemporaries were decked in flannel and looking in urgent need of a bath, The Afghan Whigs were always a bit different from your standard 90s rock band. Clothing wasn’t the only thing to set them apart though, as hopefully the songs will show.
The Afghan Whigs would often through a cover version or two into their live sets, and stick them on the b-sides of singles, so I’ll stick with that tradition by throwing a few in too.
In all honesty debut album Big Top Halloween is fairly inessential It’s a decent listen, but the best stuff comes after that, though a couple of tracks do re-appear on the second album, Up In It.
Up In It is where we’ll kick off with the music. Released in 1990 by Sub Pop Up In It is a decent slab of alt-rock and if we’re being brutally honest not one of my favourites. There’s some right good moments on the album, with the buzzsaw guitars and Dulli’s frantic snarling of White Trash Party being a standout.
The Afghan Whigs – White Trash Party
1992’s Congregation is where things started to get interesting. A Sixties soul influence that was always lurking in the band starts to muscle into the foreground, and not coincidentally everything gets much sexier. Sleazier too. Congregation is filthy, sexy, and menacing, and the first time that if you take Dulli’s lyrics at face value you’d start to (a) think he’s probably an arsehole and (b) start to fancy him.
The Afghan Whigs – I’m Her Slave
With the Uptown Avondale EP released shortly after Congregation those soul influences were fully embraced, with covers of songs best know for being performed by Freda Payne, Elvis Presley, The Supremes and Al Green.The next time you have the misfortune to witness a tired an emotional 30 something woman murder Band of Gold at karaoke just try to close your ears and think of this version instead.
The Afghan Whigs – Band of Gold
Album number four, Gentlemen, tends to be the most critically acclaimed, with a 33 1/3 volume dedicated to the album and everything. It isn’t hard to see where the praise comes from. Gentlemen is one of those albums that anyone with ears should have a copy of.
Dulli is often noted for his self hating lyrics, but there’s a regularly overlooked dry wit at play too. Mind you, I’m sure a few woman wouldn’t disagree with the sentiment behind the line “Ladies, let me tell you about myself. I got a dick for a brain and my brain is gonna sell my ass to you”. Actually, all girls should be issued with a copy of Gentlemen on their 13th birthday and sent to listen to it with the warning “this is men, stay away from them”, teen pregnancy rates would plummet.
The Afghan Whigs – What Jail Is Like
Here’s another cover, from the b-side of the What Jail Is Like single.
The Afghan Whigs – The Dark End of the Street
Black Love was my first Afghan Whigs album. I’d heard and bought Honky’s Ladder, the lead single from the album, liked what was going on there and picked up Black Love as soon as I could. That was 1996, no surprise there then. Within the first minute of the opening song, Crime Scene Part One, I was hooked, while at the same time wondering how I could have gone without hearing of this band before. Cut me some slack though, I was only 16 at the time it came out. Crime Scene still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I listen to it.
The Afghan Whigs – Crime Scene Part One
Black Love with it’s darker, almost noirish sound is still my favourite Afghan Whigs album. I’ve said before that it comes dangerously close to triggering a “fuck or fight” reaction in me, yet somehow I still haven’t banned myself from listening to it in public. Dulli’s growl at the start of Blame, Etc in particular is really quite something.
I mentioned Honky’s Ladder above, here’s a version of it from a bootleg recording from Philadelphia in 1996, mixed in with a bit of a cover. This came on my mp3 player when I was walking home one night, somewhat inebriated. I accidentally sang along, and scared the crap out of the fella that was walking along the road towards me.
The Afghan Whigs – Cocksucker Blues/Honky’s Ladder
And another cover from the same time period, pulled from the b-side of Going To Town.
The Afghan Whigs – Moon River
1965 never really grabbed me at the time it came out. Later years and further listens would prove what we’ve long suspected – I know nothing. The brooding of earlier albums is replaced with a strutting, swaggering performance. The sleazy remains, but this time the arrogance and cockiness are less threatening, and brandished like a badge of honour. Greg Dulli still presents himself as an arsehole who thinks with his dick, but goodness, he’s proud of it. On 1965 Dulli is the guy that’s fucked every girl at work, boasts about it to his colleagues, and doesn’t notice that everyone hates him.
The Afghan Whigs – Uptown Again
1965 was the last studio album by The Afghan Whigs, but I’m not quite done with the songs yet.
I happen to love Curtis Mayfield too. Here’s another live cover then.
The Afghan Whigs – (Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go
Y’know what would be awesome? If one of my favourite bands were to cover to one of my favourite songs from another band I love. Oh look, they did.
The Afghan Whigs – Everything Flows
Oh, and don’t you worry, I’ll be getting back to Teenage Fanclub soon enough. Also note that unusually for an American Greg Dulli doesn’t pronounce Glasgow as Glass Cow. Good work Greg.
This post is already more than long enough, so I’m not going to into the stuff Greg Dulli did between the band breaking up in 2000 and getting back together at the tail end of last year. His work has been consistently interesting, so do investigate The Gutter Twins and The Twilight Singers too.
To mark the recent live dates we got our first new recording from The Afghan Whigs since late 2006, made available from the band’s website for free.
The Afghan Whigs – See and Don’t See
I once turned down the opportunity to interview Greg Dulli face to face because I was terrified I’d make an idiot of myself. I think we can all agree I made the right decision there.
There’s an Afghan Whigs Peel Session elsewhere on the blog, you can listen that here.
Keep up with The Afghan Whigs over at their website and on Facebook. Buy their records. And The Twilight Singers records too.