In Spades by The Afghan Whigs

Release date: May 5, 2017
Label: Sub Pop Records

2016 was a challenging year for people of a certain age where many influential musicians from their adolescence were cruelly taken away. For Greg Dulli, the passing of Prince would have been a huge blow as he was a guiding inspiration to him, while Purple Rain holds the honour of being his favourite album.

The Prince adoration has shaped his Afghan Whigs to explore and evolve from their Alternative rock base over the course of their career. And on their 8th album, In Spades, they expand their sound even further with a generous amount of additional musical instruments which creates a greater depth of finesse. It is not a complete sea change, but feels like a natural continuation from 2015’s comeback album Do the Beast.

In Spades still has all the attributes associated with an Afghan Whigs release, for example, melancholy mixed with triumphant blasts, an Alternative rock sound inspired by classic rock absorbed through a love of classic soul, and Greg veering between refined, reflective, flirtatious, and sinister. But where the noticeable differences exist from previous album Do the Beast is Greg Dulli this time around sings at an increased higher falsetto, with an extra laden of sweeping keys and brass instruments applied. Plus, crucially, a lighter toned production allows more space within the grooves, less density, so encompasses for a more enhanced soulful widescreen hearing, as exemplified on ‘Oriole.’ The underlying impression is Greg has been listening to a huge amount of Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, and Stevie Wonder, and of course, Prince.

There still are the full band treated belters where they gloriously puff out their chests for huge, punchy, hip shaking rhythms, as on the splendid ‘Arabian heights.’ The equally excellent ‘Demon in profile’ leads with piano, but a horn section, a sublime guitar lead, turns it into a delightful soulful rock tune in full swagger. But the grandiose song award goes to ‘Toy automatic’, a drone intro soon swells into lush cascading soundscapes, majestic sweep of horns, backed by a metronomic rhythm.

While the full funky treatment in ‘Light as a feather’, is classic 1970’s Stevie Wonder keys offset by a thumping, thrusting backbeat swing, choppy repetitive guitar and Greg once again expressing his inner Curtis Mayfield. But as always, it sounds like nothing else but the Afghan Whigs.

The rock influences bear fruit more openly in the dense and robust ‘Copernicus’ which begins with pounding drums and proceeds with a darker, sinister, wrapped ‘Rock n Roll singer’ AC/DC styled riff, but it still develops into a lighter swooning soulful ending.

The album is bookended by the elegant and vulnerable ‘I got lost’ while although ‘Onto the floor’ has Greg expressing open emotions, the epic nature is somewhat diminished by the main melody being a slowed down Don Henley’s ‘Boys of summer.’ A song which after all these years still has this reviewer undecided where its place is on the taste rating chart.

But this is not to disparage the view of In Spades which sees Greg Dulli and the gang expose successful soulful elegance, stompy swagger, fuller fulfilled lush arrangements, and delves deep into a rich array of thoughtful emotions, for an inventive album while still maintaining the essence of the Afghan Whigs sound. Greg Dulli’s fellow gutter twin and soul mate, Mark Lanegan, has quite rightly invited many plaudits with his similar timed release Gargoyles, but the Afghan Whigs have also raised their game, pushed the envelope, and the result is a very gratifying album.

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