a beautiful, throbbing, tender bruise of a record
American rock music as a whole may be in somewhat of a dull valley at the moment, but we should thank our lucky stars that Greg Dulli’s still around. Those readers who’ve followed his progress since The Afghan Whigs were initially put out to pasture back in 2001, will undoubtedly sing high praise for his Twilight Singers output and, personally, I’d rate his Gutter Twins collaboration with Mark Lanegan, Saturnalia, as being one of the best rock albums of the last decade, without question. Having said that, there’s always a slight intake of breath when you hear of a band reforming. In many cases, bands simply can’t recreate the magic they had previously and, like much loved footballers returning to a former club, it quite often doesn’t work out as planned. Thankfully, this is an exception to the rule. Do To The Beast is a fantastic record.
It kicks off in a pleasantly crunchy manner with the bolshy, stompy Parked Outside but it’s the excellent Matamoros that signifies that all is well and good in the Afghan Whigs camp. Matamoros is a heady, swirling, snarling, menacing rock song; a heady mix of spattering drums and spiraling, aggressive guitars. As walls of sound go, this is as strong as an old farmhouse in Yorkshire.
I’ll be honest though, next up is It Kills and I’m not entirely sure that what happens in its third minute is truly warranted, but you’re simply not a real rock fan if you don’t like it when a band start squealing for no apparent reason. It’s a song that flirts with disaster on a couple of occasions, but it’s so joyously pompous and cocksure that you’ll probably forgive it just as I have. Then we get Algiers, which is brilliant, although when I tell you it sounds like a mix between Calexico and Chris Isaak you probably won’t believe me. Now then, I’m also going to tell you that it steals the drumbeat from Be My Baby by The Ronettes, and throws some castanets into the mix – I’m pretty sure they’re castanets – and I’m sure that many of you will have swear words forming on your lips right now, ready and waiting to be fired in my direction but trust me, despite what I say, it’s brilliant. And no, I’ve no idea how either but from here on in, things get really, really interesting. From Lost In the Woods on, all the way through to the close of the wondrous These Sticks, Do To The Beast is simply magnificent.
Dulli is a master at mining emotional turmoil for artistic gains and, as with all the best Whigs output, he doesn’t concentrate on the release of tension. Dulli’s interested in the build up to a confrontation, or the after-effects of it, and the album spends the rest of its length running through these two intense mindsets. At times it’s cold, calculated and utterly menacing and at others it seems almost hopeful and transcendant. The band may have lost original guitarist Rick McCollum for this album but they’ve lost nothing of their power. At times, Do To The Beast is quite breathtaking; Can Rova and closing track These Sticks are simply two of the best songs Dulli’s ever written. It’s an album clear of bullshit. No histrionics. No gimmicks. Just pure, hard, tough and yet beautiful rock music. It is a beautiful, throbbing, tender bruise of a record. It’s a marvel.
And nobody saw that coming.