afghanwigs

There’s something peculiar about the time-frame of 16 years lately, in terms of the recent reunion albums and tours. First Soundgarden’s King Animal comes out 16 years after Down on the Upside, and then Neutral Milk Hotel tours 16 years after dissolving mysteriously in ’98. Now The Afghan WhigsDo to the Beast joins the drivers’ license reunion extravaganza, sans original guitarist Rick McCollum. It sometimes gives straightforward, heavily produced radio rock, sometimes stripped down balladry instead, but there’s always Dulli’s flair for pained, antiheroic characters and demonic metaphors.

Parked Outside

The Afghan Whigs’ first album in 16 years opens trying to “show something new” to an audience who’s “seen it all” with a heavy 12/8 groove on the “Cold as Ice” chords, followed by half of “Hotel California“‘s walk-down. It may fail that goal, but the “break down” is still good and beefy: [LISTEN]

"Parked Outside"

Matamoros

Love is a Battlefield” in this funk-rock jam that mixes well-adapted Arabian-scale pop into its straightforward 90’s rock template. The main verse riffs may be slightly more old hat, but it’s still a solid piece, even 2014’s largely burnt-out-on-rock-tropes environment:

"Matamoros"

It Kills

Someone on this track has a mean falsetto and inspiring female-gospel-ish belt – traits that not only lift this pounding ballad of heartbroken loneliness, but have been carrying this album so far as well. It’s almost enough to make it feel timeless:

"It Kills"

Algiers

The Whigs’ copping the oft-parroted groove of The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” makes for an immediate turnoff; before Dulli opens his mouth, the Spaghetti Western soundtrack feel has trumped anything he has to say. His crooning 2.5 minutes in doesn’t help much, either:

"Algiers"

Lost in the Woods

What starts as a dark two-chorder about betrayal and watching someone die bursts open at 1.5 minutes into a euphoric shuffle-rock groove, like the sun through the gloomiest sky – only to return with a full orchestra of sadness, and then back again. It’s a quite interesting, unusually effective pair:

"Lost in the Woods"

Lottery

Once again, a minor-key, slightly generic combo of fast-picked guitar and funky hi-hat work give way to a pleasantly major chorus. Dulli’s belted vocals bounce between sounding cartoonish and beefy – call it a raspiness increase with age. Who knows what the “lottery” represents, though:

"Lottery"

Can Rova

The lines “See the light, be the night/Feel the moon” fully capture the feel of this nocturnal escapist ballad. While beautiful, there’s a sense of melancholy at the end of the chord progression, like whatever’s at the end of the “drive” will never be fully wipe away their troubles:

"Can Rova"

Royal Cream

Dulli’s yelps immediately detour into that cartoonish territory, though they fit better after the full band drop. His romantic and intrapersonal concerns are spun with metaphors supernatural (“demon”) and visceral (“disease”). It’s a harder rocker, but its hooks are too familiar to punch:

"Royal Cream"

I Am Fire

Royal Cream” transitions directly into the percussive/acoustic groove here. That combines with soulmate-searching sentiments that come across both as pining and peacocking. Tracks like this show TAW aging well after a 16-year silence – even if it’s a big departure from their older material:

"I Am Fire"

These Sticks

Powerful, heavy, and once again, literally visceral – even if Dulli’s willing to “suffer at your hands” with sticks “tied around his heart” ‘til it explodes, he will return to “make you pay.” The 0:49 guitar flub hints at purely live takes, which would explain the massive energy at the climax:

"These Sticks"