REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

Rebirth of the cool as The Afghan Whigs return with swagger and soul

Old Subbacultcha

Old Subbacultcha

Making like the noughties never happened The Afghan Whigs shrug off a sixteen-year break and pick up where they left off in fiercely fine fettle.

Whigs_cover_nobandThe Afghan Whigs - Do To The Beast (OUT 14th APRIL)

It's been 16 years since the last
Afghan Whigs album, the horny soul of
1965, and more than 20 years since their third album the bruised heartbreak cycle of 1993's
Gentlemen blew this writer's mind. Citing the far from acrimonious circumstances of geographical challenges and family commitments the Whigs slammed the brakes on just as they appeared to be in the ascendancy. A retrospective in 2006 to mark their decade long absence brought with it some triumphant performances and evidence aplenty that they had lost none of their bite on stage but all the signs were that they, like the immortal
Pavement, were simply teasing us, in no hurry to risk the wrath of their fans in advancing their legacy following such a pronounced lapse of time
Pixies anyone?) In the intervening years frontman Greg Dulli has kept himself more than occupied with five or so releases as
The Twilight Singers which whilst intermittently brilliant (the folktronica of 2000's
Twilight… or surging guitar stomp of 2006's
Powder Burns in particular) always felt like a somewhat diluted version of the emotional nakedness, passion and fury that poured out of every
Afghan Whigs song. The bombastic guitar crunch of
Do To The Beast's opener
'Parked Outside' reminds you from the off just what we’ve been missing. In spite of bassist John Curley being the only other band mate to return from the original line-up, there’s clearly something in duty owed to the name that brings out the best demon-wrestling in Dulli. Somehow the name itself serves as a visceral creative foil and inspiration that he never quite replicated in other guises. It helps that vocally he’s in as fine form as he’s ever been, at both turns seductive and combative. There’s the desperation he layers into
‘Parked Outside’s core refrain
“you’re gonna make me break down and cry” as it builds to larynx-shred levels as he collapses, then there’s the other Dulli, where soulful falsetto meets menace as on
'Matamoros' which opens with slinky R&B beat and insistent riff and some suitably baiting lyrics
("if my desire for your company led this mothefucker to point a gun at me"). Likewise
'Lost In The Woods', Dulli smouldering in predatory style over gloomy piano tinker before the song erupts into a joyously bouncy anthemic refrain and a closing interlocking guitar wail that rewinds the decades in a blink in recalling
Black Love’s wonderful
‘Faded’. Elsewhere,
'It Kills' starts with a circling piano refrain and ambient beat that's seemingly near lifted from the first
Twilight Singers album before roaring into life with some
‘Great Gig In The Sky’ backing vocals. (As a side note I find it hard to believe that Dulli hasn't  written a song called
'It Kills' before let alone the lyrics
"it kills to watch you love another"…) The single that heralded the triumphant return
‘Algiers’ is as good as the cowboy-band video would suggest, all
‘Be My Baby’ and gentle spaghetti western strum whilst ‘
Can Rova’ moves from cello saw, acoustic guitar and hushed Dulli croon to closing club beat. It's all truly stellar stuff. So, script be damned.
Do To The Beast is even better that we could have hoped for, simmering and seething with flashes of soul-singed angst that belies the years that have lapsed since they last troubled the airwaves. Welcome back gentlemen.