Whiggin' Out

Avant-rock takes shape in the Afghan Whigs and its wild front man

What Aerosmith must dig is the soulful incarnation the Whigs has evolved into with 1965. Perhaps it was the New Orleans recording location, but the addition of horns, P-Funk keyboards and female backup singers moves the band further from the Sub Pop sound and closer to the upbeat sensuality of mid-'70s Motown combined with guitar rock. The record opens with the sound of a match striking and Dulli's voice confessing on "Something Hot" that his desire is so strong he'll "never walk the same." It's a clue of what's ahead. In the past the group has offered paeans to the downside of bad love, but this is a record about the night before it all goes to shit. This is a record about trying to get laid. On "John the Baptist," Dulli uses wine and Marvin Gaye to charm a lover before offering up himself, quoting the soul legend with, "Let's get it on!" And the band hangs on for the ride while hoping to make a love connection. "[This is] definitely our most rock record since Up In It," says Dulli.

Proud of his fascination with hip-hop and R&B, Dulli quotes Puff Daddy, Mase, Nas, the Temptations and Marvin Gaye on record and in concert. The playful mood of the album is reflected in Dulli's asking, "Who's hot, who's not?" parroting rapper Mase's question from Puff Daddy's "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems." "The Mase thing was more of a funny kind of thing," says Dulli. "The Nas thing, I'm blown away by that kid. I think he's a Bob Dylan-caliber writer. He's the best lyricist I've seen since Chuck D's heyday. It's so far past what Master P is doing. Master P is just down there picking quarters out from underneath couch cushions."

Though the band has long been mixing elements of soul into the mix, the Whigs's 1965 is more fully realized than the hit-and-miss stabs at soul the group has offered in the past. A raucous version of Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love," which landed on the soundtrack to the 1997 film Beautiful Girls, showed that Dulli wasn't as smooth as White and that the band couldn't carry off the smoldering desire. The white White version was too fast, too loose, like a garage band screwing around. A more convincing cover was the Whigs's take on TLC's "Creep." Instead of sounding like the defiant, booty-on-the-side Atlanta ladies, Dulli and the boys come off as reluctant cocksmen, downplaying the sleaziness and adding hints of regret. McCollum pinches the stuttering melody on his six-string, and Curley throws a mess of freak-me keyboards on top, while Dulli moans through the lyrics. The highlights come when Dulli doesn't try so hard to do everything by himself. Letting instruments such as the piano and cello build the sexual tension while the bass sets up the groove, Dulli relies on his laid-back singing and intensity to bolster the sexuality.

See, when he wants to, Dulli can be mature.

Afghan Whigs performs Tuesday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m., opening up for Aerosmith, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands. Tickets are $25 to $65. Call (713)629-3700 for more info.

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