Synopsis of Pop Music
“Go to town, burn it down, turn around,
And get your stroll on, baby,
I'll get the car,
You get the match,
Alternative rock bands are known for many things: in-your-face attitudes, unconventional lyrics, and intense sounds that stand apart from the typical pop-friendly stuff on the radio. Afghan Whigs brought all these elements to the table, plus one more that few alterna-rockers have: soul. They were one of the few bands of their type to work a strong r&b element into the usual white-noise guitars and grunge-oriented sonic styles. The end result was the birth of an alternative rock group with a sound as funky as it was intense.
The Afghan Whigs were formed at the University of Cincinatti by then-student Greg Dulli and photographer John Curley in 1986. Two other students, Steve Earle and Rick McCollum, fleshed out the band, and the newly-formed Whigs began crafting a style that mixed edgy alternative rock with flashes of old-school r&b. The icing on their alterna-rock cake was provided by Dulli’s dark, literate lyrics, which often took the form of noir-styled stories. They debuted this style on record in 1988 with Big Top Halloween, an independently released outing that won much praise in the underground music press.
Big Top Halloween caught the attention of Sub Pop Records, an indie-music legend that also provided an early home to future bestsellers like Nirvana and Soundgarden. This led to a record contract and the release of their second album, Up In It. The new tracks showed the band sharpening their combination of indie grit and r&b grooves as Dulli polished his wit on songs like “White Trash Party” and “Hey Cuz.” Afghan Whigs went on tour to support the album and would spend the next few years exhaustively touring the U.S. and Europe.
In 1992, Afghan Whigs returned to the studio and flexed their road-tested musical abilities to create one of their finest albums, Congregation. On this LP, the band experimented with slower, ballad-style tempos on some songs as Dulli crafted intense lyrics about relationships going bad on songs like “Her Against Me” and “Let Me Lie To You.” Dulli’s vocal range—extended from a snarl to a croon—was the perfect wrapping paper for the combination of velvet and venom in his lyrics. The new experiments worked well, and Congregation became one of Afghan Whigs’ most-praised albums as a result.
After recording an EP of r&b covers called Uptown Avondale, Afghan Whigs moved to a major label (Elektra) for 1993’s Gentlemen. This album widened their sonic palette by working in a mellotron and cello on some songs as Dulli continued to perfect his mixture of emotional intensity and dark humor on songs like “Be Sweet” and “What Jail Is Like.” The album won much critical acclaim and even landed a video on MTV in the form of “Debonair.” The next year, Greg Dulli participated in the soundtrack of the Beatles biopic Backbeat, lending his vocals for the songs performed by the actor portraying John Lennon.
In 1996, Afghan Whigs returned with Black Love, an album that brought out the soul element in their sound by using gospel and dance styles on some songs. Lyrically, Greg Dulli continued to explore the darker corners of the human heart with mesmerizing style on songs like “Blame, Etc.” and “Going To Town.” The album also debuted the group’s new drummer, Paul Buchignani. Two years later, the group recorded 1965 in New Orleans. That city’s sultry atmosphere was reflected in the album’s moody, soulful sound, especially on darkly romantic songs like “John The Baptist.”
Today, Afghan Whigs remains active, but the group’s members also devote much time to side projects. Most notably, Greg Dulli has recorded an album with his side-project The Twilight Singers, garnering praise from the musical press with its dance-oriented sounds. It is not certain when the next Afghan Whigs album will be released, but it is certain that plenty of alternative-rockers will be eagerly awaiting their combination of soulful sounds and thought-provoking lyricism whenever they decide to re-emerge.
Artist Release History1988 - Big Top Halloween
1990 - Up In It
1991 - Congregation
1992 - Uptown Avondale (EP)
1993 - Gentlemen
1996 - Black Love
1998 - 1965
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsCongregation (Sub Pop)
Band MembersGreg Dulli lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Rick McCollum lead guitar
John Curley bass
Steve Earle drums (1989-94)
Paul Buchignani drums (1994-98)
Mike Horrigan drums (1998-)