REVIEW: The Afghan Whigs – Do To The Beast (Sub Pop)



Tracklisting: Parked Outside / Matamoros / It Kills / Algiers / Lost In The Woods / The Lottery / Can Rova / Royal Cream / I Am Fire / These Sticks


1994. Hell of a year my friend. Year Zero for this old wordsmith.

A journalism student finally dishing out semi-literate ramblings in the university rag. A country bursting with musical promise in the guise of “Cool-Britannia”. The cinematic milestone of Pulp Fiction, the zeitgeist crushing death of Kurt Cobain….and one drunken fumbling that finally thrust yours truly into the abyss of manhood. A sordidly monumental event that will be ever etched on my mind thanks to the present I was the recipient of the following morning….

Get your mind out of the gutter people, it was a copy of Gentlemen by The Afghan Whigs from my flatmate Dave (a rotund Eddie Vedder with a penchant for warrior-like face paint and the macabre), gifted to me with the words, “have a listen to this Steve, it will make you feel even dirtier”.

It did just that. The Afghan Whigs’ fourth album is a seething, filthy fuckfest of alt-soul that oozes with illicit pleasures. After a cleansing cold shower I realised I’d found one of those rare records that stay with you for life.

In 2001, following the release of a further two albums The Afghan Whigs broke up, their oeuvre, whilst critically lauded, mistakenly consigned to the vault marked “grunge also rans”. 16 years after they unleashed their last full length, Greg Dulli and co. return with lusty fires still burning to remind the world that all the best music shoots from the groin.

The new album Do To The Beast opens with “Parked Outside” a full blooded statement of intent, a grinding, savage beast that harks to the band’s earliest work. Dulli kicks things off with a warning to the naive listener to “put out your innocence or your gonna be smoke when she turns out the lights” whilst the band swirls around him finally reaching a shattering crescendo, load shot before collapsing exhausted to their knees.

Pumped with invigoration of men half their age track two “Matamoros” kicks in like musical viagra. A jittery, funky number that clocks in at under the 3 minute mark (sometimes a quickie is all you need), it’s the most “pop” moment here with a Timberlake goes Sub Pop vibe (think Stone Gossard’s side project Brad).

With an intro combining delicate piano and ominously ticking clock “It Kills” pours over you with a loving caress after the previous thrusting excess. The warm embrace is short lived however, as Dulli wrong foots us with a murderous blow as he mourns how “it kills to watch you with another”. His voice, at its most beautifully strained, entwines with guest vocalist Van Hunt’s impassioned yelps to devastating effect delivering one of Do To The Beast‘s undisputed standouts.

“Algiers” you’ll already know with its Spector-esque drumming and Roy Orbison in a one horse town vibe. It’s the biggest detour from the band’s past work, but as a starting point for The Afghan Whigs 2.0 it serves valiantly. The moody Nick Cave-ish centrepiece “Lost In The Woods” creeps along with shadowy purpose before transcending into a glorious explosion of brass, samples and Dulli’s majestic vocals. To call it a masterpiece would do it an injustice. It’s as vital as anything The Afghan Whigs have ever released.

Like a former lover returning for one last urgently aching fuck the flipside of Do To The Beast kicks off with the the sweaty familiarity of ‘”The Lottery,” a blistering tune that transports you back 20 years with its youthful exuberance. “Can Rova” is slower, country-tinged and wistful as Dulli distressfully calls out “you don’t need me” to an un-named paramour. Whilst “Royal Cream” continues the theme as we learn another past conquest is “sleeping with another demon”. Masculine frailties are a bitch.

The Afghan Whigs end Do To The Beast with “I Am Fire” and “‘These Sticks” two tracks that bring the album to a sombre close (one tinged with regret and revenge) and you’re left drained, but satisfied; eager to ride the beast again.

In 1994 The Afghan Whigs were the soundtrack to teenage sin and the guiltless consequence. Two decades on and although lascivious behaviour has been replaced with domestic bliss, Do To The Beast is a welcome reminder that passion doesn’t diminish with age and that when the devil is looking for a house band in hell he’d better have Greg Dulli’s number.


Rating 4 out of 5






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