tue 07/02/2023

Album: The Afghan Whigs - How Do You Burn? | reviews, news & interviews

Album: The Afghan Whigs - How Do You Burn?

Album: The Afghan Whigs - How Do You Burn?

Greg Dulli's veterans head for the hedonistic horizon, still finding wisdom in excess

'Dulli and his band reach for the bigger and bolder life this music always promised'

Hedonism and romance still drive Greg Dulli’s rock’n’roll on his main band’s ninth album.

Relationship traumas have always simmered just beneath the Whigs’ surface, most notably on Gentlemen’s 1993 autopsy of an affair. Whatever the real life skeleton of How Do You Burn?, it mostly shows love for the rock form itself, and the life it traditionally offered. The ghosts of the Nineties, when the Whigs bloomed and American rock last defined an era, haunt this record. So too the Seventies, when the Stones dropped clues to an apparently seedily splendid existence through albums of implicit debauchery, encyclopaedic Americana and pop finesse.

Opener “I’ll Make You See God” mines Deep Purple for its fuzz pulse, pummelling drive and the guitar’s final dancing skirl across the ramparts. “The Getaway” combines country steel guitar and the lysergic swirl of The Beatles’ (or Siouxsie’s) “Dear Prudence”, the latter influence resurfacing on “Take Me There” with its sitar-like start, crunching Revolver drums and melancholy violin saws, while the title nods to the Jim Thompson novel and Peckinpah film of doomed bank-robbing lovers. “Waiting for the night as I destroy the day,” Dull sings, trying to make it to his darling “up around the bend.” “Don’t let your money, honey, steal you,” he then advises on “Catch a Colt”, where twin guitars interweave across the stereo spectrum and squeal as if throttled.

“Jyja” starts in the swamp, where the guitars’ insectile chitter miasmically coheres around creepily stalking keyboards. The lyrics show the breaks are off, allowing “whatever gets you though the night”, because “I know misbehaviour, and I know what I like/I’m copping a feel as I reveal my surreptitious appetite… look for the feminine, she is the medicine, I like to know where I’m going.” A staccato keyboard pulse shatters any calm, Van Hunt’s high harmonies and the guitars’ chain-gang chop combining in a final ecstasy. This is one man seeking to get past himself and his cares and limits, bringing lovers and brothers along. In a coda, Nam copters flutter and warp.

The sultry, Wurlitzer and slide guitar-graced ballad “Please, Baby, Please” comes at similar territory from a different sonic angle, trying to shuck “self-taught illusion”, and echoing the Stones’ “Fool to Cry” in the falsetto edge to its pleading chorus. Another, acoustic ballad, “Concealer”, is made for Dulli’s native heartland Midwest, showing the hip lingo and musical sentiment he deals in: “I’m gonna take you on a mystery ride, hustle for the corner and slip over the side/Ancient was the light like a song on the stereo.” Huck Finn lighting out for the territory, the Beats’ road, street shuck and jive and the red glows of roach and amplifier in the dark as a record spins: this is where he aches to be at.

“In Flames”’ finale sees a high violin note held like a thin scream before the Whigs’ break into a swagger, the singer “looking for a good time” – but “not even I can buy a friend”. Dulli’s gravel howl tries to tear the track open, though he’s “breathing ashes in so many ways”, till a guitar’s thick, redemptive solo meets him in a majestic end.

What seems at first a sophisticated, familiar sound, a mature holdover from grunge’s messy prime, keeps its secrets a thin layer down, inviting a second pass with the volume up, as Dulli and his band reach for the bigger and bolder life this music always promised.

This is one man seeking to get past himself and his cares and limits


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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