THE AFGHAN WHIGS: BLACK LOVE (1996)
1) Crime Scene, Part One; 2) My Enemy; 3) Double Day; 4) Blame, Etc.; 5) Step Into The Light; 6) Going To Town; 7) Honky's Ladder; 8) Night By Candlelight; 9) Bulletproof; 10) Summer's Kiss; 11) Faded.
It looks like Greg Dulli eventually decided that Congregation and Gentlemen were too melodic, on the verge of conventionally commercial; hence, Black Love's retread into more familiar territory — the more I listen to it, the less I can remember about the individual songs. But yeah, artistic integrity and coherence and all. There are people out there who honestly consider this to be The Afghan Whigs' masterpiece, and they have their point.
Of course, it is impossible to «just» go back. In 1996, unlike 1991, the Whigs were a critically acclaimed, moderately popular, wisened-up outfit with a style, an agenda, and years of touring and recording expertise behind them. Thus, Black Love is a well-planned, well-calculated record on which Dulli knows fairly well where he's going. Instead of a patchy and clumsy guitar sound, the band offers a steel-wheel disciplined wall of grunge/R'n'B, one that even dares to throw such instruments as clavinets and cellos into the mix; and, likewise, the lyrics have morphed from pure adolescent stream-of-consciousness into a sort of «rock poetry» professionally targeted at people with severe OCD problems.
Unfortunately, Black Love is selling to you that style and mood alone, and it is not that unique or even individualistic to be able to convert too many people. The Whigs have gotten bigger, louder, more brutal, more invasive, but Black Love does that at the total expense of musical ideas. Apart from one or two «ballads», not a single one of which has the instrumental subtlety of 'When We Two Parted' from the last record, the whole thing is just one big blast, and it all comes down to whether you feel like identifying with it or not. I don't. Too many blasts have gone by since the dawning of the rock age for me to want to identify with them just because they happen to be blasting. Gimme tunes, goddammit — particularly now, when, based on the experience of Gentlemen, I know for sure that this is not an utterly impossible request.
Ironically, it seems that even the blasting is not done all that well. The one song that does stand out a little, the one where the band really exerts itself to the utmost, is 'Bulletproof': the guitars become almost impossibly loud, even the piano accompaniment goes for overkill, and Dulli's screaming goes to 11. This is noticeable even against a dozen similar-sounding numbers — meaning that normally they still restrain themselves. So it's a mood-oriented record on which the mood has not been worked out to perfection.
The long epic 'Faded', coming in at the last moment, almost tries to patch things up by cutting the formless blob of noise dead in its tracks and supporting its anthemic pretensions with an excellent slide guitar part, just about the only musical bit on the entire album that I could find worthy. Turns out that Dulli is musically more meaningful when he is in an apologetic mood ("You can believe in me, baby, can I believe in you?") than when he is in one of his fits. Unfortunately, we get to realize it way too late, when there is no time already to switch from the thumbs down position. Yes, Black Love is meaningful and sincere, but then, so are we all. And some of us, I'm not afraid to say, suffer quite comparably to Greg Dulli — and some might even suffer in more interesting ways for the general public.
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