Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Afghan Whigs - "1965" - 1998

The Afghan Whigs have put out a new album today and while it's too early for me to pass judgment on that, I want to talk about what I've always considered their finest album, "1965."

Now I know that my former boss Jeff Randall (who was the entertainment editor, among other things, for The Daily Nebraskan during my tenure) would argue that "Gentlemen" was their finest record, but here Jeff and I must simply agree to disagree. A lot of people put "Gentlemen" down as their favorite, but for me, "1965" focused all the things I loved about the band and left me with nothing but great songs. I hesitate to do the "top five desert island" albums thing that Rob Gordon would criticize but if I did only have five albums I could bring with me somewhere, "1965" would definitely be on that list, as it's an album I've listened to a lot over the years and never seem to get tired of. So that says something.

When The Afghan Whigs started, they were, well, they were certainly rough around the edges. The band formed in Cincinnati in the mid 1980s, and the idea was to blend garage rock with shades of R&B. The early recordings hinted at the R&B influences, but it wouldn't be until "Congregation," the band's 1992 album, that the shades of Motown would start to eek into the spotlight. This was also the time the band started getting well noticed, and moved from indie hero label Subpop and to Elektra, to record 1993's "Gentlemen."

"Gentlemen" got them a lot of attention, and is around the time I found them. I suspect I saw them on 120 Minutes. It's not an unreasonable thing to suspect. I remember picking up this album on cassette, and eventually CD, as well as the follow-up, "Black Love." Both albums had songs I liked, but it wasn't until 1998 when "1965" came out that I truly "got" what the band was doing.

"1965" is the R&B/rock hybrid record they'd always been flirting with. It's heavily steeped with New Orleans brass, and has an almost carnival-like glee to it. The album is both seductive and sleazy, both alluring and vaguely menacing. It's the perfect Afghan Whigs record, in my estimation.

From the opening bass slide of "Something Hot" to the final orgy-of-sound that is "The Vampire Lanois," "1965" is an album that purrs and croons. For the longest time, I had an Archos MP3 player that held TWENTY gigs of music. (Shut up. This is back when I was in college.) And I used to fall asleep listening to music on shuffle from that thing, and the first song on it was "66," and very rare was the night when I'd skip past that track.

Trust me, this is an album to own.

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