Afghan Whigs: Gentlemen (Elektra Records 9-61501-2; CD and cassette)

IT’S IRONIC that Greg Dulli, leader of the Afghan Whigs, has gained a reputation as alternative rock’s newest sex symbol. The Cincinnati-based group’s first major-label release, Gentlemen, is a mesmerizing account of his failings as a lover.

Mr. Dulli is the latest in rock-and-roll’s seemingly endless line of angry young men, and the songs he has written seethe with a moody, dark rage. Yet unlike some of his contemporaries who rail against the world, the target of the fury is Mr. Dulli himself.

What he and the Afghan Whigs present is an often painful glimpse into a relationship’s downfall. Granted, the battleground between men and women has been at the core of countless pop songs. But Mr. Dulli’s eloquently articulated shame, guilt and frustration at what has gone wrong and what he could have done to prevent it give Gentlemen power and purpose.

His biting, self-deprecating wit is both bracing and beguiling. On ‘Debonair’, his vocals swell from a seductive purr to a strangulated roar, as stinging guitars punctuate a tale of love gone astray.

Afghan Whigs had previously recorded for the Sub Pop label, which is based in Seattle, the spiritual home of grunge. Mr. Dulli’s willingness to tackle adult themes and to examine his sexual psyche places the Afghan Whigs miles above the whining collegiate concerns of many alternative rock bands.

© Amy LindenThe New York Times, 6 February 1994

Leave a Comment