Reuniting in 2012 to tour worldwide, and then delivering their first new album in 16 years with 2014’s Do to the Beast, the Afghan Whigs are back with their latest LP, In Spades. Quite possibly their most diverse album to date, In Spades finds frontman Greg Dulli and company in top form, brimming with all the dark and sexy swagger that earned them a devoted international following that began with their critically acclaimed 1993 LP Gentlemen.
By diverse, I do not refer to instruments, but rather the songs themselves. While In Spades features a horn section, violins, violas, cellos, mellotrons, and harmoniums alongside guitars, drums, and bass, these elements are not new to the Whigs repertoire. In fact, ever since their 1996 masterpiece Black Love, the Whigs have stretched beyond the typical rock n’ roll confines that so many of their peers find comfortable. Doubtless, this is a result of Dulli’s vision rather than any contrived attempt to be experimental. In fact, those instruments have always been a part of rock n’ roll, despite what the 90’s pigeonholed as such. Diversity, in terms of this album, refers to style and breaking away from the expected while simultaneously retaining their patented sound.
The opening track, “Birdland,” is a perfect example. Powered by multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson’s stuttering violin, viola, and cello and featuring backing vocal’s from Susan Marshall (who was heavily featured on the bands 1998 LP 1965), “Birdland” perfectly sets the tone for the album. Most powerful, perhaps, is Dulli audibly fighting back tears. Indeed, a slight sniffle is heard and signifies a vulnerability that so many other artists would hide. Some tracks, like “Demon in Profile,” “Light as a Feather,” and “Copernicus,” consist of everything one would typically identify as a Whigs song, powerful guitars, soaring crescendos, and Dulli’s effortless bravado. On the other hand, songs like “Toy Automatic,” “The Spell,” and “Arabian Heights” show the band stretching out into new territories.
Overall, my only complaint is the 36 minute run time. Their shortest album to date, with most songs somewhere around the three minute mark (and a couple under three minutes), I could have handled a few more songs. That said, there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into and when it’s all over you’ll just want to play it again.
– J. Kevin Lynch