14 May 2017

The Afghan Whigs - In Spades


The name Afghan Whigs has always hold a certain value and worth to a lot of people, with each release being met with anticipation.  When they released their 2014 album 'Do to the Beast' (our review linked here) it was a majestic return of unbridled joy & passion and showed that they had truly grown as musicians during their sabbatical and 'Do to the Beast' was the album that the band had always threatened to release, it was when their ambition was met by their performance and it sounded glorious.  Roll forward three years and they have released 'In Spades' which was produced by head Whig Gregg Dulli in studios in New Orleans, Joshua Tree, Los Angeles and Memphis.  It is an album that spans the whole of America and it is one that I have been looking forward to.  Will it be as good as 'Do to the Beast' or will it miss that greatness?

01 – Birdland

‘Birdland’ is a stirring beginning to this album, full of synth noise, looping voices, strings, acoustic guitar strumming and the vocals that could persuade angels and demons to switch allegiances at a moment’s notice.  It is only two minutes and fifty seconds long, but it introduces this album with a gentle caress instead of a loud bang, showing that the band are more than an explosion of noise and swagger, there is an honesty to the music here and it sounds special, just so fucking special and gentle that you want to press repeat once it is finished.

02 – Arabian Heights

With a Middle-Eastern flavour to their sound on this number, the band have made a song that has pulsing rhythm and makes everything feel better within a few seconds of it starting.  It has a danceable quality, something which is not always there in Alternative Rock and it is also a number that feels as if the devil is on their shoulder, driving the song onwards towards the horizon that never ends.  It is a great number, it feels as if the band have been given a new purpose and that everything is ready for a change, or at least that is what I have taken from the song.

03 – Demon in Profile

‘Demon in Profile’ is a song that feels like it should be a big deal, it has that confidence that has always been one of the most attractive facets of this band as they make songs that cross over from their genre of Alternative Rock.  This song has horns, it has style, it has that wonderful confidence of a band on fire and there is a feeling that the expectation and excitement that was at the start of a relationship has been replaced with an uneasy feeling of bittersweet loss to the lyrics.  There is so much confidence coming out of this song that it could (and probably will) pick up your significant other and leave whilst you are still at the bar.

04 – Toy Automatic

This sounds like sunshine in a bottle, there is summer and then there is the summer of your mind – this sounds like the latter and not the former.  It builds all the time, dropping down slightly only to build up once again.  It is a glorious rock/pop number that has horns blazing, string tugging at your heart and that band in the middle, driving this along at a leisurely pace.  If there is one thing about ‘Toy Automatic’ that I am disappointed in, it is the length as it is over as the song starts to take flight for me.  But musically, the band have an emotional number that sings to my heart from the opening bravado to the ending which comes too soon.

05 – Oriole

‘Oriole’ keeps that magical formula of ‘In Shades’ going, but not really doing anything that the band have not attempted on other albums before.  It is a number that has some slow sections, but it is generally aiming for an epic ending that lets (NAME THE VOCALIST) rip and it achieves this goal.  However, it feels so compact that it is over in a blink of an eye as you could easily get lost in this song, another great number that I selfishly wish was longer.

06 – Copernicus

There is a hard rocking swagger to this number, the stomp is hitting home here on ‘Copernicus’ and I am slowly running out of words to define how good this song (and others on the album) sound.  It is an Alternative Rock dream, one that enthrals and mesmerises in equal measure and it sounds like you are in a desert and all you have surrounding you is this song.  This is one of the best of the album.

07 – The Spell

On ‘The Spell’ we have the Afghan Whigs is in a lower mood to begin with, it is slower and then it starts to build slowly, the strings are added, the band come in and you have another standard epic song that has become the calling card of this album.  Is it a bit short?  Yeah, once again it is for my tastes, but it is better to end early than to keep on going too long and it still sounds special and fascinating. 

08 – Light as a Feather

Another some that has a groove which you want to dance to, ‘Light as a Feather’ is a song which keeps the party going in style.  It is not the deepest song ever to be honest, there is a blasé/devil may care attitude to this song which is also part of the attraction as well.  It is fun, simple and able to a smile creep across upon your face once it starts to play.

09 – I Got Lost

The slow, tender and reflective side of the Whigs comes out on ‘I Got Lost’ as they abandon everything that they knew and lose all sense of self on this song, requiring isolation and disconnection from a lover.  It is piano led, full of drama, fragile and incredibly beautiful.

10 – Into the Floor

Well, they do like to add drama to the proceedings, you have to give them that.  Ending this album with flourish, The Afghan Whigs ponder the need to crash and burn to grow strong once again.  Starting with a dramatic clash of sound, slowing it down slightly and then building upwards with a pace as slow as a funeral march and as poetic as a Shakespearian sonnet.  It certainly ends this album in flames and thunder, the perfect way to end an Afghan Whigs album in my opinion.

I read a few articles about this album before it was released which stated that it was an improvement on the work done on ‘Do to The Beast’, which is a statement I cannot agree with to a certain degree.  For me, whilst it does keep up the great work of ‘Do to The Beast’, it also taken that confidence of that album and went in a slightly different direction, one that has created a counterpart that shows the band in a different place, a better place in some ways and one that does not need every song to sound like the walls are going to break down through the vibration.  It is more of a sister-album, a twin in terms of quality and one that is equal to that glorious return.  Make no mistake, there is still noise, there is passion, there is warfare, there is love, there is love, there is the Afghan Whigs playing as if their lives depend on the music reaching a peak and creating a fantastic album that needs to be hear as one whole piece.  Individually, the songs are great and are perfectly fine by themselves, but the album works so well with each song being played that it is hard not to think of this album as anything other than one of those (sadly) rare beasts of an album that needs to be played in one go.  It is also a record which propels them in another direction, away from those original roots onto something different and it could still take them further forward.  What they do from here is anyone’s guess, but they have just released a brilliant record.  Off points?  Well, a few songs could have been embellished, but that is just greed on my behalf.  This album should be regarded as one of the best albums of their career as it is steeped in confidence, it shows a great progression throughout the record and above all else – passion and desire, so what are you waiting for?

9 out of ten – Almost perfect, almost

Top track – Into the Floor

You can purchase In Spades on Amazon here.

You can visit the Afghan Whigs website here.

You can follow the activities of the Afghan Whigs on Facebook here.

You can stream In Spades on Spotify here.

You can stream In Spades on Deezer here.

You can stream In Spades on Tidal here.

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