Released: May 5, 2017
When the Afghan Whigs released Congregation back in 1992, they immediately sounded like a throw-back alternative to alt-rock. Combining elements of soul and funk with a sexually-charged lyrical perspective, frontman Greg Dulli and his cohorts were clearly marching to their own beat. The band subsequently courted mainstream success with a pair of decade-defining releases (the beautifully manic Gentlemen and their opus, Black Love), but the cracks began to show during the tumultuous sessions that would ultimately forge 1965.
At that point, frontman Greg Dulli opted to retire the name (a move that essentially ended the band) and moved on to other projects. Fast forward a decade or so, where following a well-received ‘comeback’ (2014’s Do To The Beast), Dulli and his revamped line-up decided to give it another go.
The Afghan Whigs’ eighth album, In Spades, finds Dulli and Co. putting forth an uncompromising collection of songs that reveals an entirely new side of the band. Not unlike Do To The Beast before it, In Spades feels inspired by Dulli’s post-breakup efforts (The Twilight Singers, The Gutter Twins, etc.), a slew of projects that saw the singer expanding beyond the artistic safety of guitar-driven rock.
In that regard, In Spades is a perfect amalgamation of both phases of Dulli’s career, exuding a more refined, reflective stance on the band’s otherwise decadent swagger. Where most Whigs albums tend to open with a bang, In Spades is a slow reveal, beginning with the understated “Birdland,” a haunting number that features a contemplative Dulli crooning over a bed of staccato strings.
The driving “Arabian Heights” segues perfectly into the album’s first single, the piano-driven “Demon In Profile,” a shining example of Dulli’s ability to deliver an epic musical moment in a trim, four-minute package. As the record unfolds, songs like the atmospheric “Toy Automatic” and the percussion-heavy “The Spell” demonstrate the Afghan Whigs’ ever-impressive ability to generate drive and momentum without relying solely on guitar-centric heroics.
That isn’t to say that In Spades doesn’t rock because it certainly has its moments–tracks like “Copernicus” and “Light As A Feather” could easily fit on any of the band’s seminal ’90s releases. It’s just that the band leans even heavier on understated swagger this time around, all but abandoning the paint-by-numbers riff-rock approach that probably would’ve just as easily pleased long-time fans.
As with most of the Whigs’ catalog, the production here is spot on. Thanks to the lush, nuanced mix that never feels overworked, judiciously-placed horns and strings add a sense of swing to the upbeat numbers and depth to the quieter moments, a point underscored by the album’s closing statement. In Spades concludes with the somber “I Got Lost” giving way to the heartbreaking “Into The Floor,” a fitting finale to what is arguably the Afghan Whigs’ most cohesive musical statement since Black Love.
The word “spooky” has been tossed around by Dulli (in reference to this record), and it’s an apt description as much of the album’s lyrical content revolves around the cold reality of mortality. It’s a heavy theme, but fitting, considering that Dulli is currently in his fifth decade (and counting) of record-making. In Spades wasn’t the Afghan Whig’s final musical statement, but it definitely would have sufficed. Instead, it serves as yet another late-career highlight that easily stands amongst Greg Dulli’s best work.