Out There

Hard as a rock

1965
Afghan Whigs
Columbia

Greg Dulli would like to think he's the blackest cracker around; the only thing he loves more than his magic johnson is his soul-music record collection, which he hauls out every now and then when he wants to rearrange the words to something Dan Penn wrote 30 years ago. Or when that runs dry, the Whigs just go straight for the sheet music and play the hits like the best bar band on the block: "The Dark End of the Street," "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe," and "Band of Gold" make up much of the recent discography, sold by Dulli with sincerity and smarm. He could probably make a nursery rhyme sound smutty.

Dulli's at his best when he plays down the playboy shtick and pays for his sins with his gold AmEx; 1993's Gentleman remains the band's low-life highlight, about a stud who gets as good as he gives when he finds himself in a relationship based solely on revenge and repulsion. "I've got a dick for a brain," he said, sort of apologizing but not really. After all, just a few seconds later he offers that "she wants love, and I still want to fuck." And 1996's Black Love should have been titled Self Love: "My lust it ties me up in chains," he moaned. Not since Bryan Ferry has a singer been more in love with his own libido. Which is why 1965 is the silliest "sexy" record ever recorded: Dulli no longer feels remorse, no longer begs for absolution out of the side of his mouth. "I wanna get you high," Dulli sings at the outset, promising "Somethin' Hot"; behind him, the band vamps and boogie-woogies while backup singer Susan Marshall hits the high notes. 1965 doesn't have time for foreplay--it starts off with the money shot and a smoke.

The music is a dizzying, delirious amalgam of horns, strings, and sap, guitar-rock made by men who play bars only because the lounges are too well-lit. Imagine Motown reinterpreted by punks on the loose in New Orleans, and you're halfway undressed. Dulli gets you the rest of the way there: He spends the record sweet-talkin' his ladies in and out of bed, all the while coming up with metaphors for doin' it (e.g., going "over the rainbow"). Dulli doesn't much believe in subtlety. His idea of poetry is delivering a pick-up line in a rat-pack rasp, telling a woman she "walked in just like smoke with a little come on come on come in your walk." As "John the Baptist," he offers his lady some wine and Marvin Gaye to get her in the mood, but he'd prefer it if she'd "come on and taste me." Smoooooth. Then, to make sure you get the point, he adds, almost as an afterthought: "Let's get it on." The music at this point sounds vaguely like the theme from Shaft...oh, I get it. But Dulli's is anything but a private dick.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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