“Only Trouble Can Save Me”: The Afghan Whigs – Do To the Beast (2014)

So, I’ve been immersing myself in this album for the last few weeks.  As a huge fan of the Afghan Whigs I was somewhat weary of the fruits of a band that have been away for so long and find themselves without one of the key players.  Sure Dulli has always been the chief songwriter, but those who flanked him – John Curley and Rick McCollum – were integral to the Whigs sound.  Y’see, ol’ Rick McCollum wahed and wailed, sparred and scuffed, and generally just created a bit of a fuzzed frenzy.  So yeah, a look at the cast and it’s clear that what we got here is a Twilight Singers album with John Curley.

But you know what?  That’s really not the case at all.  I mean, the lack of sparring guitars is notable, but Do To The Beast really does stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the Afghan Whigs catalogue proving that the Whigs is not defined solely by it’s members.  I don’t care what anyone says.  Parked Outside is a meaty opener.  Complete with a crunching riff that you wouldn’t ever attribute to the Whigs.  No sir.  I really thought “oh” when I heard it, but I liked it.  I do like it.  My concerns about the likelihood of an underwhelming ‘return’ where kicked right out the door by the the second track however; Matamoros is pure Afghan Whigs.  It sounds so familiar … the spirit of the Afghan Whigs all over it.

Algiers was the lead-off single, of course.  I mean, I was like a kid unwrapping their Woody and Buzz Lightyear on Christmas morning in 1995 when I heard that.   Hearing it here alongside the rest of Dulli’s confessions, though, really illustrates how awesome it is.  It’s dusty and all Spector-esque.  Like Parked Outside it’s completely unlike the Whigs.  But when you really dig deep you hear that it’s not.  I mean, this could have sat nicely on 1965, right?  Dulli delivering his lines like a distant cousin of Al Green.  You can hear him strain, but he’s going with it.  And he’s even rocking the auto-tune.  Cause that’s how he rolls.

… and don’t get me started on Lost In The Woods.  A track that Dulli labelled a favourite.  It’s really easy to hear why as it swoops from the almost death march verse to the Brian Wilson-esque chorus before it ends in a hail of cellos and soaring guitars.  Man, that song is so good.  All-timer stuff.  Before you know it it’s time to get the record switched over (first time around I seriously nearly dropped it due to the excitement!).  The Lottery plays much like Twilight as Played by The Afghan Whigs, but that’s not a bad thing.  Royal Cream, though, rings of Gentlemen era awesomeness.  The music menacing and Dulli declaring “I know you’re sleeping with another demon, love destroyed by love”.  Man, that’s just the kinda stuff he says on that album!

In fact, the album is littered with all the soaring choruses and R&B that you’d expect from them (check out It Kills, by the way – particularly Van Hunt’s cameo.  Oooft!) and when you throw in the usual cast of saints, sinners, addicts, those scarred by obsessions, and the heartbroken that wander around Dulli’s postcard perfect landscapes and essentially what you’ve got yourself is an Afghan Whigs record.

I expect there’ll be the naysayers, who’ll point out that it’s not really a Whigs return or that it’s the same ol’ routine from Dulli.  But it’s not.  It’s anything but.  Do To The Beast is a return … of sorts.  But it’s not about nostalgia – it’s evolution, baby.  And I really hope they stick around, too.  Heck, maybe Rick will even get his shit together and get in the ring for some o’ that trademark sparring.

*For those considering picking it up on vinyl, I’d hold off just now.  There’s a flaw on Side D during Royal Cream.  There’s a recall in place (though Amazon (UK) are happy to sell it despite me informing them of this – seriously) and Sub Pop hope there’ll be a 
fresh, fixed and splendiferous press over the next few weeks.  I’ll be looking forward to that.

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