1998, Music

1965 (1998) by The Afghan Whigs

I did not particularly enjoy the critically acclaimed Gentlemen and I think so much of that has to do with when I heard it, in my late 30s. I suspect had I heard it when I was, say, 22, I might have really liked it a lot. It’s still a fine record but, as a 37-year-old, I couldn’t connect with the lyrics, and I have trouble seeing how it could be considered a masterpiece.

But this record is quite a different beast. The hints of R&B and soul on Gentlemen have gone from hints and accents to being the dominant form of songwriting. What was once just a slight difference between them and alternative rock bands is now a clear demarcation point. I haven’t heard the intervening record, and I assume it was a progression through that one but, listening to only these two, it sure feels like a different band.

These are not necessarily the greatest soul and R&B songs; I think you’ll find plenty of better ones from the past and from the Neo Soul movement that was contemporaneous to this record, but they’re good enough to make the record work.

I’m still sure I don’t like Dulli as a lyricist and I don’t generally love records that are primarily about sex, but Dulli’s lyrics here are so much less problematic and embarrassing for a 37-year-old listener than those on Gentlemen. I still don’t really want to listen to them, and some of the lines still make me cringe, but at least he appears to really like his girlfriend/wife/partner/whomever this time, which seems like a real improvement.

But for me, it’s really the arrangements that make this record worthwhile. Gentlemen only hinted at the possibilities (and it’s easy to see people using hindsight to go back in time to suggest that they are more than hints) but this is a full on fusion of R&B and alternative rock, like I’ve never heard anywhere else. The record has grooves but it also has way more of an edge than basically any ’90s R&B group would have ever attempted. And this band did this when virtually all of their contemporaries had either broken up or embraced Post Grunge. This is so far from that; it’s so utterly refreshing.

This is not a band I think I will ever love, but I really respect their commitment to doing what they want to do, rather than what would have sold more records. This is a unique record and I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anything else like it.


PS I have no idea what the title means. Dulli was born in 1965 so maybe it’s the same idea as Taylor Swift’s 1989. But don’t get any ideas that this sounds like Stax in 1965 or something like that. It sure doesn’t. It’s its own thing.

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