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Never trust a man who says he knows what the meaning of life is. That is unknowable, and maybe nonexistent. However, I know damn well what the point of life is: to procreate, and in so doing, fornicate. To the best of our scientific knowledge, six billion years of evolution has gone into making all of us, men and women, want to bang. Often. The urge to fuck is one of the most basic, relatable mental processes in the world, and one intimately related to love — the subject of more songs and poems than any other subject (my money is on war in second place, and just plain physical sex as a close third). And yet, somewhere along the way, it became un-hip to write music about sex, at least too overtly.
But let’s cut away the bullshit. There is nothing wrong with cock-rock. Actually, cock-rock is kind of awesome. Enter the Afghan Whigs. The Cincinnati four-piece came into their own in the late ’80s and early ’90s alternative scene, a collective of bands that rejected the cock-rock ethos, and for good reason: The ’80s hair metal scene had taken sexual rock and roll to such extremes as to render it absurd. Unlike their contemporaries, though, the Afghan Whigs gloried in bacchanalia, making them unique among the bands they often shared labels with. On the other hand, their approach to cock-rock was distinct from the woman-devouring bands that preceded them.
You could call them progressive. The Afghan Whigs, and especially guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Greg Dulli, understood that even the most Caucasian rock is at its heart derived from African American music, and sexuality is an intimate part of that — they don’t call him Elvis the Pelvis without good reason. So while rock bands emulated rock bands, Dulli took things back to basics, taking his cues from soul and R&B music. While Kurt Cobain re-branded the hellish blues torture of Robert Johnson, Dulli glorified the melancholy-but-libidinous tunes of the Supremes, Barry White, and even TLC, albeit with a darker twist. Instead of blue-eyed soul, let’s call it black-hearted.
It was, and remains, a unique take on rock music, and today, even though the Afghan Whigs enjoyed some modest commercial success, their influence on modern rock and pop music is less than apparent. Bands like Interpol and Jimmy Eat World have earned the occasional comparison, but don’t really sound like the Afghan Whigs (the sole exception that comes to mind is Maroon 5′s critically underrated debut album Songs About Jane — had they continued in the soul-rock vein, I might still buy their albums).
When I counted down Josh Homme’s albums for Stereogum, a commenter said, “In a perfect world, Queens [Of The Stone Age] and Afghan Whigs would have conquered the charts instead of Creed and Nickelback.” I’m inclined to agree with him — and a little surprised that the Whigs never reached arena status. They have the songs, the hooks, and later in their career, the production value. Cynically, it might have something to do with the band’s aesthetic (there was a classic fanzine called “Fat Greg Dulli,” if that tells you something). But more realistically, I think their uniqueness became a detriment. Standing out in a crowd is good for a job search, but bad for rock superstardom, leaving the Whigs in a genre of solitary confinement.
Of course, the Whigs were born when Greg Dulli (supposedly) met lead guitarist Rick McCollum in an Athens, OH jail cell, after being taken into custody for disorderly conduct. The band assumed regular operations in Cincinnati, which begs the question: What exactly were the two doing in Athens? The same thing everyone does in Athens: getting drunk and disorderly (as proof, research the Ohio University’s Halloween celebration festivities). As a fellow Ohioan I can attest, this state breeds a special kind of asshole. We’re the state that keeps racist baseball mascots long past their expiration dates, and that glorifies its Big 10 football team’s ability to trounce their rivals from a smaller, better-educated Michigan town. Fuck small. Fuck educated. Of course my home state produced the world’s artsiest cock-rock band.
Eventually, the center ceased to hold and the Afghan Whigs called it quits in 2001, leaving Dulli to embark on a semi-solo career leading the Twilight Singers and doing a few albums with Mark Lanegan. However, recently the band reunited sans-McCollum, leaving Dulli and John Curley as the only permanent members of the band (a good thing, too, as Curley’s dexterous Rickenbacker-playing is as essential to the band as Dulli’s crass sexuality). Energized by a successful reunion tour in 2012, and a unique, popular set with Usher at SXSW in 2013, the band is back in action with a new record and another tour this coming autumn. It seems as though this decade might be kinder to Dulli and Curley than the ’90s were.
After all, the era of free love is over. The era of cheap sex, however, is here to stay. The Afghan Whigs’ subject matter is more relevant now than ever, and their music just as unique as it was when it was new. Next month, Sub Pop will release a book of Dulli’s photographs — alongside haiku by Danny Bland and calligraphy by Exene Cervenka — called I Apologize in Advance For The Awful Things I’m Gonna Do. So this is an apt time to look back at Dulli’s work with the Whigs … and apologize in advance for what we’re gonna do.

Start the Countdown here.

Comments (43)
  1. Although Black Love has great soul and is more spacious, the call here for number one is clearly Gentlemen. It was their defining moment and by far one of their seediest, most compelling and emotionally charged albums produced. That album had teeth. Sharp fucking teeth and was not afraid to bite.

  2. Jason Malmberg  |   Posted on Aug 12th, 2014 +5

    FINALLY someone gets one of these rankings right. I’ve been a huge Whigs fan for 20+ years and Black Love IS the masterpiece. People tend to gravitate toward Gentlemen more, since it’s such a mission statement of an album, but everything they set out to do on Gentlemen they perfected on Black Love. Gentlemen is Academy Ratio and thats grey, but Black Love is widescreen Cinemascope.

  3. nope Black Love is number one mos def, however putting 1965 behind do to the beast is a blatant mistake….

    • Agreed, 1965 belongs firmly in slot 3, and often I find it in the number 1 slot for me personally. This is definitely reinforced by how badass Omerta was live on the reunion tour.

  4. Truly one of the most underrated, under-appreciated bands of all time. For me, Gentlemen is their magnum opus, but everything that followed maintained a quality level that is incredibly impressive.

  5. I like Black Love ALOT. But Gentlemen is their defining album. This reminds me of the Boxer Vs High Violet debate for The National. I like High Violet a ton but Boxer distilled the sound that would become the signature sound for the band. Black Love is really great but it’s built upon the template of Gentlemen. And something that imitates can never take precedence over the original.

  6. Gotta go with the first comment; Gentlemen is the album that would go in the time capsule for the next dominant species to find, not Black Love. Dulli himself says he got a bit too full of himself (and cocaine) on Black Love, with no one willing to tell him “you don’t think the harpsichord is a bit much?”. Too many songs run far too long without enough meat on the bones to carry them through. It’s a very, very good album, but Bulletproof, for example, as good as it is, could do with the entire half-time break before the outro and would be a much better song for it.

    As an album, it just doesn’t get better than Gentlemen. Not a minute longer or shorter than it should be, coherent in theme and sound, a murderer’s row of concise songs forcefully delivered… it’s the superior choice, if you ask me.

  7. When I first saw this, I thought it impossible…How would anyone rank these records? They are all the best! I almost skipped reading after the odd comparison to Maroon 5 at the beginning (though I admit the last Maroon 5 album I heard was The Fourth World) but I like the list and many of the points made. I think Gentlemen and Black Love are interchangeable at the top. Depends on my mood which is my fave. I’d put Do to the Beast next. Partially blinded by nostalgia I’m sure, but I love the record despite it sometimes feeling a bit like something from the Twilight Singers. Honestly living in Cincinnati and being a fan of the band since the beginning its hard not to love all of these records even Big Top Halloween. Now ranking The Afghan Whigs cover songs…there’s a challenge.

    • HAH! True that. I very nearly tried to do a countdown of the covers and found that I could not. Based on my plays alone, I’d put “Cant Get Enough of Your Love” at one, followed by “Creep” and then… god it all just falls apart.

    • My absolute fave cover by them is “Come See About Me”, but not the studio version but rather the live one I got on a bootleg of their very last show before the breakup, at Bogart’s in Cincy. It’s not the full 9-piece they toured with for 1965, since this show wasn’t really part of that tour, but they were a five-piece at least, I know they had a keyboardist and he throws down a killer solo on this cover. This show also has what I’m pretty sure is their only cover of “I’ll Be Around” by The Spinners.

      It’s a great bootleg of a great show that I’d break out throughout their, what, hiatus? Dulli even promises they’ll be back in 2001 for “A Whig’s Odyssey” but that obviously never happened.

  8. I remember reading this once……”If you really want to be cool your favorite Rolling Stones song is Fool To Cry”. I laughed hysterically when I read that as Fool To Cry REALLY IS my favorite Stones song…….

    That being said….of all of the early 90′s bands there is no doubt in my mind Afghan Whigs are far and away the coolest of the lot. Sexy, dirty, and really sinister. I haven’t listened to Gentlemen in years. I will rectify that oversight this evening with a nice bottle of scotch in hand

    • I really love this: “That being said….of all of the early 90′s bands there is no doubt in my mind Afghan Whigs are far and away the coolest of the lot. Sexy, dirty, and really sinister.”

      I ALWAYS feel like their music is sort of sexy/dirty and it’s the coolest dichotomy having that vibe come from a band with a phenomenal front-man like Dulli. (Unabashed rock crush!)

      • Lindsay……not to beat a dead horse but there’s something about the Whigs that captures that “It’s past midnight and I really should call it a night. But in my heart I know I’m gonna go do something (or someone) that I’m gonna regret” I love that about them. Nasty business, this Afghan Whigs biz.

  9. I love this feature, even if my head canon list disagrees with the author’s, because it gives me the impetus to reexamine an artist I’m less familiar with or who I had written off. I’ve long loved the diamond-studded crap out of Prince, and there is so much of his music I never bothered with, man. Parade rules, who knew?

    That being said, this one will be a lot for me to digest, probably the toughest since Coldplay or the Foo Fighters (possibly the only time you’ll see those bands lumped together with Greg Dulli?). The ONLY Afghan Whigs album I’ve listened to is Black Love, and it’s always been pretty unappealing to me, perennially on the shelf after a several failed attempts at getting into it. I’ll… earmark this page. Maybe someday my black heart will be ready to accept this band more than it has.

    • Your head canon means as much as any of these lists, which is why, though I had Parade ranked low relative to an amorphous consensus, I am stoked that you’re digging it.

    • That’s honestly all I’ve ever wanted out of these features. Love them or hate them, as long as they get people to listen to the music and think about it, I’ve done my job.

      Black Love is a hard one to start with. Honestly? Try do The Beast and work your way back. It’s by far the most hook-oriented.

      For what it’s worth, my first was Congregation, because I’m a Jesus Christ Superstar FREAK, and that cover of “The Temple” got me geeked.

  10. Actually, Dulli fought AGAINST having Honky’s Ladder as the single. From an interview with the AV Club:

    “That was not my choice of a single, and it just got kind of rammed down my throat.”

  11. Agree that it is a toss-up between Gentleman and Black Love. The former is more consistent, but the highs are higher for me on Black Love: the funk of “Going to Town”, the intimacy of “Step into the Light”, and the catharsis of “Summer’s Kiss” all make me swoon in a pinch.

    Totally underrated band, you could do a list for Twilight Singers too. Dulli had a really unique vision, something that really comes across in his soul music covers. Alternative rock that borrowed from classic R&B was an idea that should have been huge.

  12. Misread the post. Thought it said “311 Albums From Worst to Best”… Got really excited there for a second. OWWWOOOOOOOOO!

  13. Cool writeup …. and surprising when I saw my own comment referenced from the Josh H assessment. I do think there is that alternate “grunge” narrative that’s never been properly written about, and Greg Dulli and company gave it all legitimacy. A truly great vocalist, but I can see why they never hit it big. Their hook writing was not on par w/ the Nirvanas of the world, and the bands that had similar potential – like Mudhoney – rightly got the accolades but not the immediate recognition. I think history sort of corrects all of it. The radio grunge of the time is justly dismissed and AW get good writeups such as this.

  14. This is exactly right.

  15. I know this was a bit more likely as there were only seven albums to rank, but this is the first time I’ve agreed with every entry on a list. I just hope we rank them again in a few years, with many more records in tow.

  16. Gentlemen/Black Love a toss up in my book in the long view.

    The only problem I have with this article is the mis-use of “begs the question” by the author in the intro piece. deserves a bitch slapping for that. hopefully, will read and learn.

  17. I’m probably alone on this one, but Congregation will always be my favorite. I love Gentlemen and Black Love. In fact, the three are a trilogy in a way. But Congregation was so out of left field when it came out, that it will always hold a special place for me. The production is so warm and dark. And to me, Dulli’s “character” on this one seemed more cursed and vulnerable than the rest, with less of the bravado that would creep in to future records. They never topped “I’m Her Slave”, “Conjure Me”, and “Let Me Lie To You” in my opinion. They sure as hell did a wonderful job trying, though. Love em.

  18. Gentlemen, Black Love, 1965, Blackberry Belle, Twilight. In that order.

    The Twilight Singers albums deserve to be added to this and ranked accordingly. I’m hoping for a Ten Best Greg Dulli songs at some point, too.

    Black Love while great, is overindulgent to a fault, and it comes across as a try-too-hard Gentlemen re-do. I mean, track one quotes lyrics from track four, again? Ballads at track 5 and 8 again?

    Still, their best song is “Rebirth of the Cool.” Which is an overindulgent, try-too-hard re-do of “Miles Iz Ded.”

  19. One of my favorite places to be is standing in a crowd at a Dulli show drunk to the mast with everyone else singing these songs along with him. One of the most transporting things I’ve witnessed and I love being a part of that black liquor-ish groveling pirate crew singing one last kumbaya from the gutter.

  20. Something curious: I have been listening to my CD of GENTLEMEN for years and years. Recently I signed up for iTunes Match, and I downloaded the matched iTunes files of it and… Well, I’m SURE it’s mixed differently. I’m hearing things I’ve never heard on it before, guitar parts and a general clarity to the recordings. Also, some of the songs have different runtimes – most prominently, the connecting bit of music between BE SWEET and DEBONAIR is a few bars longer on the iTunes version. This is probably of no interest to anybody but me, but there hasn’t been a remaster of it done or anything that I can find, so I’m curious as to the discrepancy. (Unless they did an iTunes specific remastering that just wasn’t announced or something?)

  21. (And I meant the connecting bit between IF I WERE GOING and GENTLEMEN, not BE SWEET and DEBONAIR – the bit of drums, the echoey bit. You know the bit.)

  22. Good list. I personally put Gentlemen and Congregation over Black Love, but they’re definitely one of the greatest bands of the 90s, up there with Nirvana, AIC, Soundgarden, and other lesser-knowns like Swervedriver.

    I think it’s safe to say the whigs influenced Queens of the Stoneage and Deftones quite a bit too (i.e. the two best hard rock bands of the 2000s)

  23. I think the “Uptown Avondale” EP should also be included in this list. I agree that “Black Love” is their real masterpiece. “Gentlemen” is just slightly behind that and then “Congregation”. “1965″ has always been weak to me. A scattered bunch of demos with one or two decent tracks. “Do The Beast” is a dud. No Rick McCollum, no Whigs. That’s why no one gives a sh*t about it. Bringing Van Hunt into the mix as opposed to Shawn Smith is just dumb also. What’s especially disappointing is the last Twilight Singers album(“Dynamite Steps) was great.
    You should rank the Dulli side projects like Twilighters, Gutter Twins, etc… The original demo for the first TS album(which is floating around the web) is one of the best things Dulli has ever been associated with. The commercial release was watered down. “Blackberry Belle” is also fantastic.

  24. I’m partial to their later stuff. I personally think they were just hitting their stride when they broke up. That’s why I wish they just kept going. They would have had a great early 2000s stretch, given the strong output Dulli showed when he did TS instead.

  25. Good list, I can get behind the choice for #1, too. Gentlemen is great and all, but it’s not entirely consistent for me

    I agree with the people talking about The Twilight Singers here, too – Blackberry Belle is an absolute gem.

  26. “Up In It’ is my favorite. Good production, aggressive songs, and consistent the whole way through. ‘Retarded’ and ‘You My Flower’ are incredible.

    My list would be:
    Up In It
    Black Love

  27. Never was a fan, but this might make me go back a re-evaluate that.

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