The return of the Afghan Whigs

First album in 16 years unlikely to win any new fans

April 24, 2014

Though I have plenty of friends, now and back in the nostalgia-tainted ’90s, with a borderline obsessive love for Greg Dulli—most of them women, oddly enough—the grungy Cincinnati soul man always left me cold. There was of course the off-putting persona of the drug-addled bad-boy in search of salvation; for that shtick, I always preferred the far more enlightened, slightly less bro-ish Mark Lanegan, with whom Dulli collaborated in the Gutter Twins. But there also was the Afghan Whigs’ music, which only was impressive if you suspended all concerns about authenticity: As campy blaxploitation, it rankled only slightly less than the histrionic sounds of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.

Don’t be distracted by delirious hosannas from the faithful: Dulli hasn’t grown much at age 50, and he certainly hasn’t altered the Whigs’ formula on the band’s first album in 16 years, except perhaps for the worst. Always a big part of the sound, guitarist Rick McCollum isn’t aboard for this cash-in comeback, and the band never had a permanent drummer, so this really is only the Whigs for the benefit of Dulli’s tax return.

Minus McCollum, a good part of the emphasis on Do to the Beast is on more airy, less rampaging arrangements, with plenty of Motown nods in the rhythms and the occasional orchestrations. But we’ve heard this from the man before, on his Twilight Singers outings, and despite the stray moments of pleasure—the rollicking opener “Parked Outside,” or the symphonic “Lost in the Woods”—my overwhelming reaction, now as back then, is “big wup; gimme Bobby Womack or Isaac Hayes.”

The Afghan Whigs, Do to the Beast (Sub Pop)

Rating on the 4-star scale: 1.5 stars.

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