Afghan Whigs

Gentlemen (Elektra ‘93) Rating: A
You just gotta appreciate the honesty of someone who says “please let me tell you about myself, I got a dick for a brain” and “she wants love, and I still wanna fuck.” This excellent and underrated album, which Bob Gendron (in his excellent 33 1/3 book about Gentlemen) called “one of the rawest, most searing break up records in history,” is a song cycle about such conflicting motives, and about attempting to overcome a wretched relationship. The dark, intense, seductive, soulful, and flat-out rocking music fits the ultra-intense verbal battles, and Greg Dulli’s whisper to a scream vocalizing builds many of these songs to melodramatic swells. Thankfully, Dulli is one helluva screamer, even if these angsty odes do get draining after awhile. It’s a good thing that his bandmates keep things interesting, incorporating soulful elements as well as grungy guitars (after all, the band used to be on Sub Pop) and tribal beats. It’s perhaps a tad too depressing to return to repeatedly, but the visceral delivery of relentless tracks such as “Gentlemen,” “Debonair,” and “Fountain & Fairfax” are difficult to deny, while slower songs such as “When We Two Parted” (my personal favorite due to a great vocal performance, guitars dripping with melancholic overtones, and unforgettable lyrics like “If I inflict the pain, then baby only I can comfort you”) and the atmospheric closer “Brother Woodrow / Closing Prayer” are both incredibly intense and beautiful. Other highlights are the melodic “What Jail Is Like” and the intense (there’s that word again) “My Curse,” which is sung spectacularly by Scrawl’s Marcy Mays. These songs demonstrate the band’s ability to build their songs up to powerful moments of truth - right up to the moment where Dulli dutifully declares “I love you” to his bereaved lover. Both lyrically and musically ambitious (heck even the suggestive album cover art is striking), Gentlemen convincingly delivers hypnotic real life dramas and matches them to music that’s equally compelling, and the album offers no easy answers to some truly troubling questions.

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