Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Generally, I hate it when people (usually baby boomers) say things like "I can't believe it was x years since..." It's a stupid denial of the fact that time moves inexorably onward no matter how we try to pretend that we're going to be young forever and nothing's ever going to change. So forgive me for saying this:

I can't believe it's been almost ten years since the Afghan Whigs' Gentlemen was released. I was in high school, listening to the local "modern rock" station, when I first heard "Gentlemen." That song stood out among the Candleboxes and Stone Temple Pilots and the other dime store nihilists littering the scene for the sheer commitment and agonizing detail Greg Dulli applied to his self-loathing. Sure, maybe it was a pose just like everyone else's, but Dulli’s vocal ability and over-the-top dedication put the Whigs on a different plane than nearly everyone else at the time. In his prime, Dulli was sort of the rock version of Al Pacino - an inveterate scene chewer who nevertheless managed to put forward vivid and vital performances.

Gentlemen is one of the great concept albums of all time - a song cycle that captures the intense pain and stifling atmosphere of an abusive and codependent relationship in all of its fucked up glory. The lyrics (which alternate naked emotion, surgically precise psychological observations and clever one-liners) are perfectly intertwined with the music - this is a smothering, tense, seething howl of an album. The Whigs never quite matched that moment again. The followup, Black Love, is an attempt to do the same concept thing on the subject of lies and jealousy. While it’s an underrated album, it doesn’t quite cohere as well as Gentlemen, and Dulli’s penchant for over emoting backfires on a few tracks. But one great album is better than most artists manage, and I can only hope that the Whigs eventually get their historical due instead of being lumped into the mid-90’s modern rock one hit wonder woodpile.

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