Do To The Beast
When grunge-era bands “return” and come close to hitting it out of the park – say, for instance Mudhoney – it’s impressive because the album stacks up against their former work, is better even. With Afghan Whigs that was always going to be a tough ask – there was a run there of nearly half a dozen interesting/great albums – a couple of stone cold classics. In the time between albums – over a decade and a half – Greg Duli has continued to make interesting music as Twilight Singers, as solo act, as one half of The Gutter Twins. There have been ups and downs but he’s a name always worth following, you check in on what Duli is up to – he’s capable of delivering the goods still.
It becomes a tall order releasing music again as Afghan Whigs, particularly since the band’s secret weapon, guitarist/composer Rick McCollum, didn’t want to front for this.
It means the songs just limp over the line, Lost In The Woods sounds like watered-down Elbow and, well, that band’s being doing a fine enough job of watering down their own sound anyway.
Opener, Parked Outside, rides on a puff of billowed-out bar-room rock, a kind of faux-metal that might be a meta-prank for all I know but actually just sounds rather silly. Matamoros sounds like INXS a bit, but not good INXS.
It Kills is another Elbow joint, Algiers takes the Phil Spector beat for the intro and then drapes a go-nowhere song over it, leaving it to hang in hopes that with that sly little musical reference at the start it might mean something. It doesn’t.
Duli’s in fine voice still – he hits the croon when he wants to, he barks, he parades, but it’s all pomp this time, no grit. No real soul in the songs, so even when he’s singing his heart out (though he never quite does that this time, actually) it’s still trapped inside mediocre material. A song (These Sticks) that sounds like a very old – aborted – Radiohead effort; another (Royal Cream) that sounds like very bad Van Halen…it actually starts to get pretty fucking dreadful.
Whatever songs they tried to muster they just gave up toward the end, the final half of the record particularly seems flung together. But the fans will tell you that enough of this shit sticks. That’s because nostalgia is a heavy driver. Sixteen years without them. It has to be good right? The return is ripe.