Speakers Push Air

December 30, 2007, 7:26 pm
Filed under: 2007 Top 20

Warning: dangerously fan-boy moment ahead.

I seem to have this personal roll-call of great lost artists and bands, bands that to my mind would have been astronomically successfully and universally acclaimed in any sane world. The Rockingbirds (the archetypal Camden cowboys – see below), Prolapse, Killdozer… OK, maybe not Prolapse, they were never going to be contenders. But they’re still better than your favourite band, you goon.

And the Afghan Whigs. The Afghan Whigs did pretty well, really, in the heyday of (spit) grunge. But they didn’t do well enough, and they didn’t get the absurd degree of acclaim they deserved. Boxed in with the ugly, lumpen, plaid shirt scene when they were just something… other. Funky as hell (honestly!), dark, fucked-up, funny. Frontman Greg Dulli’s tales of sexual guilt and.. well, OK, mostly just sexual guilt, were a million miles away from the usual ‘nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I’m going down the garden to take smack, smack, smack’ of most of their contemporaries. Musically they were just unique – sure, they had ‘grunge’ elements (and admittedly their early releases were plaid enough and hairy enough to fit the bill). But there was a genuine funk to this stuff, and not in the cold dead funk-rock way. You could hear it best live, as their ever-longer shows (featuring ever-bigger bands, with backing vocalists, brass sections, percussionists, the works) incorporated more and more snippets of hip-hop hits and soul and funk classics. They released a handful of astonishing soul covers, as well as breathtaking reworkings of The Temple (from Jesus Christ Superstar) and If I Only Had A Heart (from Wizard of Oz). And that’s why the tedious, bloated, loathsome likes of Stone Temple fucking Pilots and Sound-fucking-garden should never even be mentioned in the same breath.

I must have seen them half-a-dozen times, and they were never short of absolutely fucking miraculous. Dulli was like a cross between Elvis and Joaquin Phoenix and I think I actually had crush on him. Maybe still do…  They split up a few years back – drugs, injuries, burn-out, and Dulli most of all has really spread his wings since (Bjork covers, working with Fila Brazilia, a new project with Mark Lanegan) but they got back together earlier this year to record two new tracks for a ‘best of..’. And that, my friends, is how I’ve justified sticking a compilation of tracks by a long-defunct band into a 2007 albums round-up.

The tracklisting is, as always with these things, an argument waiting to happen: how it doesn’t include recurring track Milez Is Ded / Birth Of The Cool / Untitled (which cropped up numerous times in numerous forms) is beyond me. But it does a pretty good job, and it has the best tracks from their most complete album, Gentleman, one of which I’m posting. For the record, the new tracks pretty much suck, but that really doesn’t matter. Just LISTEN to this..

The Afghan Whigs – Debonair
from the album Unbreakable (A Retrospective) (Rhino Records)

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