REVIEW: The Afghan Whigs – “In Spades”

In Spades, the Afghan Whigs’ sequel to 2014’s Do To The Beast LP, is, as Whigs’ outings go, a pretty colorful and ambitious affair. Out Friday on vinyl and digital formats via Sub Pop Records, the album – the group’s second since it thankfully ended a 16-year-hiatus with Beast – shakes the rafters at points and emotively quivers at others and, by some black magic, frontman/songwriter/producer Greg Dulli has managed to smooth out the terra firma between both of those poles, making the record a rather thrilling listen.

While In Spades often owes more to the R&B sensibilities and production values of Dulli’s Twilight Singers (call it an inheritance of the time period) than the rough-around-the-edges soul rock of first-period Whigs, there’s still plenty to admire for fans of gems like Gentlemen. Just take “Oriole,” which starts with a beautifully recorded shuffle of acoustic guitar, vibes and strings and gradually kicks into a roar that echoes the Whigs’ brightest moments from the 1965 LP. Or the funky intro to “Light As A Feather” – and, oh my God, those hand-claps! – which could have been culled from Black Love outtakes. Inviting stuff, indeed.

That’s not to say the more Twilight Singers-inspired moments are, well, uninspired. The energetic “Arabian Nights” is made and custom-cut for a dance-floor rager, all pivotal drums and punchy bass, and the single “Demon In Profile” seems to blend the atmospherics of the Singers’ Blackberry Belle LP with the best of the Whigs’ sonic vitality. “The Spell,” complete with dramatic narration from violin, can be mesmerizing.

Dulli and company have little patience for downtime here and, even when the record hits a quiet or pensive moment (the piano ballad “I Got Lost”), it’s only a few moments before it nails the familiar swagger again (the closing “Into The Floor,” a literal set-closer). Miles might be dead but Dulli carries the soul. “Copernicus” is a downright barn burner, complete with post-grunge bass licks, while the opener, the strings-soaked but somehow spare “Birdland,” answers critics who say Dulli’s arrangements are garish or don’t rise above the syrupy.

Dulli always has been a master at presentation. (Those who doubt that need to hear his take on Bowie’s “Modern Love.”) He continues the streak with In Spades, which revels in its ability to capture and transform a mood, and contains some of The Whigs’ best moments in years. So glad these guys are together again. Can’t wait to see what’s next. – Popdose, May 1, 2017

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