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That prickly sensation associated with romantic suspicions – not the shouty kind attached to dramatically uncovered affairs, but the gradual dawning awareness that your partner is slowly pulling away and it’s all your fault – is immediately induced from the minute “If I Were Going,” the opening track on the Afghan Whigs’ major label debut, Gentlemen, begins its deliberate drag. The rest of the record burns through heated words like “This time the anger’s better than the kiss” (“Debonair”) and “Don’t you promise me what you cannot deliver” (“Fountain and Fairfax”) and then closes with an instrumental prayer. It’s heralded as one of the best break-up records ever written and considered an essential ’90s release, due to the Whigs’ creative fusion of R&B with that post-punk alternative rock sound signature to that era.
Now Gentlemen takes a second bow when the album sees its reissue on Oct. 28, celebrating 21 years since its original release with 17 bonus tracks of primarily never-released demos, live performances and B-sides. While it’s lucrative for reunited bands to tour on their classics, Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli says he doesn’t tour on old records, so don’t expect the band to take a nostalgic romp just so you can revisit your sniveling 20s. (Instead, spring for the Record Store Day triple-LP deluxe edition for a good excuse to let old feelings resurface.)
Perhaps the reason Gentlemen’s impact was felt so sincerely was due to the band’s mix of surprising strings and unexpected grooves that misled you from predicting the gruff angst of his building vocal (the slap of an internally wounded lover’s outburst), as with those country guitars doing anything but steeling you before the confrontational climax of “When We Two Parted.”
“I listened to a lot of things, but in particular around making that record,” Dulli says, “I listened to a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Marvin Gaye, so those were two of my guiding lights, so to speak.”
Now, the Whigs are touring on their new album, Do to the Beast, their first release since 1998’s acclaimed 1965. They’ve been on the road since April playing to sold-out crowds on the record rumored to be prompted by their collaborative performance with Usher at South by Southwest 2013. For Dulli, who continued making music during the period between Whigs albums as a solo artist and with the Twilight Singers and the Gutter Twins, his output spouts from three sources: his experiences, his collaborators and his attentive ear.
The range of influence on the record gives as much cause for repeated listens as those who undoubtedly spun Gentlemen on repeat to survive romantic turbulence, and Dulli says he’s been devotedly listening to music as far back as his memory goes.
“I’ve been listening to music since I can remember remembering, you know,” Dulli says. “The first record that I remember listening to over and over again was the Jackson 5’s Greatest Hits. … That’s the first one that I really remember playing kinda repeatedly.”
Although the Jackson 5’s massively popular sound was much sunnier than the all-night benders the Afghan Whigs take you on, the “piercing vibrations” referenced on the Jackson 5 hit “Never Can Say Goodbye” and associated with being dumped somehow morphed in Dulli’s head to panged rock & roll success.
“It’s great, great, great songs. I mean, who doesn’t like the Jackson 5?” Dulli says. “Nobody that I want to know.”
Got that? If you don’t like the Jackson 5, Greg Dulli will break up with you.
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