The Afghan Whigs

Black Love

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The Afghan Whigs hit a high-water mark with 1993's Gentlemen, an album that upped their game musically and plumbed the depth of Greg Dulli's self-loathing with its tales of a ladies' man whose attitude toward women (and himself) borders on the malignant. It was the band's finest and most most ambitious work, and the band was faced with the challenge of trying to top it. The Afghan Whigs' follow-up, 1996's Black Love, ultimately missed the mark, though not for a lack of trying. The performances were every bit as strong as those on Gentlemen, as Rick McCollum's mix of hard rock riffing and wailing slide guitar grew even stronger and the rhythm section laid down a beat that hit hard but retained a bit of their more graceful R&B influences. And vintage soul and funk were a significantly bigger part of the band's formula this time out, with the keyboards on "Bulletproof," the strings and percussion on "Blame, Etc.," and the hip-hop-influenced percussion on "Going to Town" serving as key signifiers. While the band was in great form on Black Love, Greg Dulli's songwriting wasn't as impressive; Black Love lacks the thematic unity and power of Gentlemen, the melodies just aren't as compelling, and while songs like "My Enemy," "Honky's Ladder," and "Night by Candlelight" are striking and well crafted, their strength points to the fact many of the other songs don't quite click. And as a lyricist, here Dulli was reworking the themes he'd explored in depth on Gentlemen and Congregation, and by this time he'd just about run out of juice. The Afghan Whigs were just too good a band to make an album that wasn't worth hearing, and the musicians blaze hard on Black Love, but the closer one scrutinizes the work, the more this record feels like a misstep after the excellence of Gentlemen and Congregation.

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