Review: Afghan Whigs are Innovative and Inventive on Latest Offering, ‘How Do You Burn’

Afghan Whigs
How Do You Burn?
(Royal Cream/BMG)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Remember not so long ago when bands gathered together in a studio to create music with a joint sensibility? Where each member spurred on the others’ creativity like The Beatles tried when creating Let It Be?

While the pandemic may not have squashed that practice forever, it forced many acts to craft studio recordings using technology when the players were not in the same studio and potentially in different cities or even countries. Such is the case with the Afghan Whigs’ ninth release in 26 years and the third after reforming in 2012. Led by frontman/singer/songwriter Greg Dulli (only bassist John Curley also remains from the original lineup), the Whigs is more a product of Dulli and co-producer Christopher Thorn than of any cohesive assemblage.  

Regardless, How Do You Burn? is an impressive collection that’s innovative and inventive if not collaborative. It also sounds like an Afghan Whigs album even if it was pieced together from performances where the contributors never saw or interacted with each other. Much of that is attributed to Dulli’s compelling vocals and songwriting, both of which remain at the center of the Whigs’ style.    

Kicking off with the throbbing hotwired “I’ll Make You See God,” the layering of multiple overdubs is immediate and powerful. That approach continues as bubbling synths, gurgling bass, boiling guitars, and pulsating drums combine under Dulli’s tenor voice to create an energetic, melodic concoction that, as in the sexually suggestive “Jyja” and the dark soulful ballad “Please, Baby, Please,” is taut yet supple.        

On “The Getaway” Dulli and company crib some notes from ELO’s synthesized strings, infusing a Beatle-esque touch. The mood softens for the psychedelic ballad “Concealer” whose lyrics of I’m gonna take you where the consciousness bends are indicative of the singer’s oblique poetry. 

Whether the Whigs continue to record in this fragmented manner is unclear. But with an album as penetrating as How Do You Burn? there is little reason to do it any other way.  

Photo Credit: John Curley/ Courtesy The Afghan Whigs

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