Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy March 1, 2004
It’s been a few years now since The Afghan Whigs disintegrated and a few more since they reached their peak, in terms of general public consciousness, with the inspiring Gentlemen, the critically overlooked Black Love, and a finely polished swansong, 1965. But don’t dare tell Greg Dulli. The man who has made a career of walking the lines between light and dark, lust and longing, love and guilt still wails with the raw sexual energy he put to tape when the Whigs first appeared in the late 1980s on a little Northwestern label called Sub Pop.
The Twilight Singers’ recently released Blackberry Belle was evidence of this, 11 tracks that reminded Whigs fans why they were so seduced by the band in the first place. On that record’s companion, a three-song younger cousin with the wordy title Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, however, Dulli and company shine even brighter, unreeling 13 minutes of powerful soul-infused rock without a momentary lull in sight.
Though the EP was released by the independent label Birdman Recording Group, The Singers still swing and swagger through the proceedings like they were on a major, all three songs displaying multiple layers of sound that are crisply recorded and cleverly mixed. The record’s title track, which kicks things off, is a fine example, where guitars, piano, bass, and percussion all move in swaying rhythmic unison, none of the elements ever colliding or overpowering each other. When weighing how well the song naturally grows, consider that it moves from a late-night acoustic guitar/piano shuffle to a roaring refrain complete with a biting electric guitar solo without seeming forced or scripted or premeditated in the least. It just unfolds. And then there’s Dulli, his voice demanding undivided attention, warm and inviting while still exhibiting that kind of smoky undertone that hints at lurking dangers, something illicit being peddled around a street corner or in the next verse.
We then get “Domani,” the most Whigs-like track on the EP, where subtly funky keyboards and sugar-sweet strings slither around behind a wall of choppy soul guitar and Dulli’s dark whispers. In the chorus, things erupt, with Dulli’s voice rising only slightly as he moans “I’m never coming down … Don’t ever hold me down.” Being held down is probably the last thing on the band’s collective mind as it wanders into “Son of Morning Star,” whose spirited R&B drumbeats and hand-claps (further accented, through some production tricks, by double-timed electronic kick drums) are so powerful, they even force Dulli to momentarily take a backseat.
It’s this closing song that’s most reminiscent of The Twilight Singers’ debut, where Dulli married the familiar strains of his Whigs songbook with clever hip-hop production, and the most distant from Blackberry Belle, which could have been recorded by The Afghan Whigs right after Black Love. It’s this track that also provides the most ammunition in comparing The Twilight Singers’ EP to another between-records gem from Dulli, The Afghan Whigs’ Uptown Avondale, released a year before the band hit the majors. That record, a five-track affair, ended with the too-hip-to-be-for-real “Rebirth of the Cool,” a cut-and-paste remix courtesy of Steve Fisk and future Twilight Singer Shawn Smith. Though sonically quite different from most of what the Whigs were doing best at the time, “Rebirth” (and much of Uptown Avondale) was a wonderful offering that showed a different side of Dulli and the Whigs.
Much the same could probably be said of Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, an alarmingly good EP that should not be overshadowed by the scope of The Twilight Singers’ recent opus. Someone call Poneman and Pavitt, sounds to me like it’s 1992 all over again.