The best part of any holiday at SRM 2 Rebecca’s cinnamon rolls. Made from an ancient recipe handed down through 1000’s of generations, stored in 3 separate locations for security, known only to one person at a time and based on the world’s first cinnamon roll. Or she found it on the internet. Either way. Delicious.
A Review of Do to the Beast by The Afghan Whigs
It’s been 16 years since the release of 1965, the last album from The Afghan Whigs. In that time, frontman and songwriter Greg Dulli continued creating his dark brand of haunting, cinematic rock through a variety of projects including The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins. While these efforts are all excellent, they lacked the unique soul-influenced, punk infused sound that made The Afghan Whigs so special.
After reuniting for a tour last year, the Whigs primaries, Dulli and founding bassist John Curley decided the time was right to create new music. Personal reasons kept guitarist Rick McCollum from joining the band this time out, but his spot is filled by Dave Rosser, Jon Skibic, multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson, Van Hunt, Mark McGuire, Alain Johannes, Clay Tarver, Patrick Keeler and Usher’s musical director Johnny “Natural” Najera. It was an impromptu performance with Usher that solidified the bands desire to make new music. That new album, Do to the Beast, is available today on Sub-Pop records.
I’ve had Do to the Beast for several weeks now and have listened to it many times. As a fan of the band since the beginning, the first two listens were surreal, I was just having trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that I was listening to new music by The Afghan Whigs. But here it was. Dulli’s soulful growl. The familiar thud of Curley’s sidewinding bass. The dark themes of love, sex, revenge.
Do to the Beast doesn’t hesitate. The opening track Parked Outside starts with a loud, deliberate, crunchy guitar riff paired with a thunderous drum beat. “If time can incinerate what I was to you…” Dulli bellows, his once smoke drenched voice cleaner, louder and crisper than when he was half his age.
Matamoros replaces the crunchy guitar with deliberate picking and an almost industrial tone building to a crescendo that would fit perfectly on any of the band’s previous records.
It Kills is straight up Twilight Singers. That’s not a bad thing at all, but the tune with its mid-tempo piano opening and cinematic string section sounds like it came right from the Powder Burns or Dynamite Steps sessions.
Algiers the first single is definitely a Whigs tune in that it sounds like nothing else. Unique, soulful, complex. Led by a distinctly western sounding percussion Algiers combines Dulli singing in a slight falsetto paired with jangly acoustic guitar, an interesting bass line and a guitar solo that most resembles the solos Rick McCollum added to the band’s sound in the past.
Lost in the Woods seems deliberately placed right in the middle of Do to the Beast. Fitting, in that this song sounds the most like a mix of The Afghan Whigs and The Twilight Singers. The next tune The Lottery also sounds like a song that could have been on either 1965 or Powder Burns. In many ways if it were not for Curley’s distinct bass playing Do to the Beast could have been released as a Twilight Singers or solo Dulli project. Again, this is not bad as the music here is incredible.
The album begins to wind down with the delicate Can Rova where Dulli barely whispers the lyrics over a soft melody and guitar. Royal Cream and I Am Fire revisit the punchy classic punk influenced sound of the Whigs earlier records Big Top Halloween and Up In It.
The album closes with the longest track. At almost 6 minutes long, These Sticks finds the band building melodies on top of crashing waves of drums and guitars. The tune harkens to classic closing tracks like Brother Woodrow/Closing Prayer from Gentlemen and Fadedfrom Black Love though the tune lacks the ambition and follow through of those tunes.
Overall, this is a tremendous listen that fits well alongside the rest of The Afghan Whigs catalogue. The album features that same dark tone and pulls similar emotional strings as their previous efforts but with a maturity that 16 years of adulthood brings. This is reflected in the lyrics with a focus on emotional themes rather than (all) sexual themes. It is heard in the complexity of the playing and the depth of sound achieved by the larger numbers of people playing on the record. And finally Dulli sounds better than ever since quitting smoking a few years back from his convincing falsetto on Algiers to his emotional screaming on tracks like Parked Outside and The Lottery.
It’s a joy to hear Dulli and Curley playing together again. Making timeless sounding rock music that, as always, is almost impossible to classify or categorize. The Afghan Whigs dark sounds and complex music have always left them as critical darlings, music for music geeks and unfortunately out of true breakthrough mainstream success. Thats a shame because if you are in on the secret this is challenging rock music that is truly fulfilling and satisfying to experience.