Sunday, March 30, 2014

FIRST IMPRESSION: The Afghan Whigs - Do To The Beast

Greg Dulli does not fuck around.  After reuniting the band that made him famous in 2012 for a round of well-received shows followed by almost a year of silence, the possibility of a new Afghan Whigs record seemed to be growing less likely.  Then, Saul Goodman himself (Bob Odenkirk to his wife and kids) dropped the bomb via Twitter that the almighty Whigs would be releasing a new platter this spring.  While not quite the indie fanboy wet dream that last year’s Replacements reunion was, the fact that Dulli and co. wouldn't settle for being a nostalgia act is not only commendable but bears striking fruit on “Do To The Beast”. 

First off, this is not the same Whigs that last showed their face in the recording studio in 2006 with a couple decent tracks for their “Unbreakable” retrospective.  Dulli and bassist John Curley are still at the helm, but this is the first record without  ace guitarist Rick McCollum (absent due to what is likely an ongoing substance issue…both he and Dulli have danced around this in recent interviews)…the absence is immediately noticeable, and McCollum’s wah-infused, slashing leads are sorely missed.   In his stead, however, are some of Dulli’s musical friends, including longtime guitarist Dave Rosser and drummer Cully Symington (both of whom toured as ancillary Whigs in 2012) along with left-field collaborators like Usher’s musical director.  Shuffling the deck hasn't appreciable changed the band’s DNA (Dulli still howls and slinks, Curley’s bass still whomps and swings), but it has allowed the band to stretch out into new and exciting territory.  First single, “Algiers”, sounds like what would happen if Dulli’s Twilight Singers hung out in New Mexico instead of New Orleans, and ballad “Can Rova” is probably the most atmospheric and beautiful thing they have ever committed to tape.  Album opener “Parked Outside”, on the other hand, is all grimy wallop, Dulli seething over a lockstep guitar groove that could have easily fit on the Whigs’ Sub Pop debut (the band don’t count ACTUAL debut “Big Top Halloween”, and neither do I).  The whole thing wraps up in just over 40 minutes with the emotional build and crescendo of “These Sticks” (those horns!), and you’re left thinking damned if they didn't pull it off.  This record is committed, thrilling, and comfortable - a best-case scenario from a band that hasn't any real reason to continue existing beyond Dulli and Curley’s combined love for what they do.  Play it loud and often…

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