The Afghan Whigs - Do to the Beast
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The commonly-held view is that grunge didn't manage to make it past the mid-nineties, and a not-insignificant recent anniversary has done nothing to diminish that belief in the popular imagination. In reality, though, The Afghan Whigs were retaining some of the key signifiers of the Seattle-born sound as late as their 1998 record 1965, which was, until now, their most recent full-length release. The basic Whigs formula involved nods to all of those early nineties touchpoints - especially rugged guitars and unrefined vocals - and marrying them with the kind of swagger that Queens of the Stone Age introduced to the mainstream.
We're coming full circle here, of course, because one of Whigs frontman Greg Dulli's projects during the years they were inactive was The Gutter Twins, with his opposite number being frequent Queens collaborator Mark Lanegan, owner of the most hellish larynx in modern rock. The challenge on Do to the Beast was to recapture the timeless elements of the Whigs sound, whilst discarding the aspects that now, inevitably, sound a little dated. 'Parked Outside' is by no means a bad start; the low growl of its riff screams sleazy belligerence, and a typically off-kilter turn from Dulli matches it all the way.
His primary focus during the past decade or so, The Twilight Singers, never really flirted with any kind of mainstream crossover, which is perhaps a little surprising when you consider that so many elements of the Whigs seem to have permeated the alternative consciousness in the years since their initial run; their sharp-suited strut would come to be mirrored by the likes of Interpol, and there's certainly plenty of evidence to suggest that their grimy guitar riffs never really went out of fashion.
There's touches of that old posture here - thumping percussion drives the fizzing 'Royal Cream', whilst 'These Sticks' simmers towards a chaotic, horn-flecked climax - but the real triumphs on this record are to be had in less familiar territory. Lackadaisical, almost jangly guitars lead the way on the yearning 'Algiers', 'Can Rova' is a gorgeously subdued effort that borders on balladry, and the shape-shifting 'Lost in the Woods' veers between dark drama - with bursts of strings to back it up - and chirpy guitars that are near-anthemic.
There's a uniformity to the overall sound of Do to the Beast - the production is slightly muddy throughout, and Dulli doesn't make much attempt to break out of his long-established vocal identity - but it's also largely consistent in recapturing the attitude that seeps through the Whigs' near-twenty year old back catalogue. They've managed to do themselves justice, and that should be enough not only to please their existing fans, but to win a few new ones too.
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