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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Afghan Whigs: Up In It


1) Retarded; 2) White Trash Party; 3) Hated; 4) Southpaw; 5) Amphetamines And Coffee; 6) Hey Cuz; 7) You My Flo­wer; 8) Son Of The South; 9) I Know Your Little Secret; 10) Big Top Halloween; 11) Sammy; 12) In My Town; 13) I Am The Sticks.

Although the Whigs had nothing to do with Seattle as such, in 1989 they were signed to the Sub Pop label the same year that Nirvana released Bleach on it. Apparently, what they were doing more or less fell in with the consolidating grunge formula: hate yourself a lot, add rumbling me­tallic doom to your average punk playing, and Seattle, the artistic shithole of the USA, wel­comes you with open... oh never mind.

Of course, neither Greg Dulli, nor anyone else in the band ever hated themselves to the suicidal point. Even on their loudest songs they always stop one or two steps before the abyss: compare, for instance, 'White Trash Party' with Nirvana's 'Negative Creep' — the former is a sincere fit of rage to which any one of us may be susceptible, the latter is clearly performed by a deranged per­son who has no more than five years left to live. And they cannot truly be categorized as «grunge», either, since the punk quotient in their music still seriously outweighs the metallic qua­lities, not to mention the band's penchant for a little old school soul and R'n'B.

For a band that gives such a big damn about not giving any big damn when it comes to choosing one's genre camp — as long as it's loud, raw, and serious — it is a shame that they so rarely come up with interesting melodies. Up In It shows some progress from the utterly forgettable debut, but still not enough to justify the Whigs' existence (it does not help, either, that the CD edition of the album throws on a whole bunch of tracks from Big Top Halloween to beef up space).

The sound is loud, raw, and serious, and the guitar duo of Dulli and McCollum are playing much more than the average three chords, borrowing lots-a-licks from both the funk/R'n'B and the old school hard rock/garage repertoire, but somehow it never manages to come together. Either it is just the production (or, rather, the lack of it) that sucks, or the fact that Dulli's growling and screa­ming on top of it all has so little to do with the actual music — sometimes, rather than the well-known comparisons with Dinosaur Jr. and The Replacements, I tend to think of Birthday Party analogies, with one crucial difference: when Nick Cave and Rowland S. Howard were raising blo­ody hell, they took care to pull all the stops, and the Afghan Whigs don't. Up In It is, after all, an album of songs, not musical terrorist acts.

'Retarded' and 'White Trash Party' start things off well, but the rest of the album is very much just a series of inferior re-runs on the same musical and lyrical topics. The lyrics, by the way, fit the sloppiness of the melodies — mostly just series of impressionistic non-sequiturs that blindly poke at the rotten nature of everything in sight. The tightest they get is on something like "Jane had a bottle of pills she kept beside her bed / She took a couple when the sky came falling down" and then we're off some place different. Dulli's vocals also make a very feeble impression: at this point, he has mastered a professional scream and an authentic rasp, but who on Earth did not have that in 1990?

All in all, Up In It is a step up indeed, but the band is still not in IT by any means, wherever the IT is supposed to be. Thumbs down.

Check "Up In It" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Up In It" (MP3) on Amazon

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