In retrospect, it shouldn’t be surprising that The Afghan Whigs and their 1993 masterpiece, Gentlemen, remain on the fringes of discussion regarding the defining bands and albums of their ’90s heyday. As a group, they were categorically out of step with every element of that scene. If clothes make the band, then the GQ Whigs couldn’t have done more to segregate themselves than don sports coats, button-downs, and loafers amid the eyefuls of flannel, denim, and Doc Martens.
Greg Dulli sings about some fucked-up shit on the Afghan Whigs’ fourth album and major-label debut, 1993’s Gentlemen, a harrowing song cycle chronicling the death throes of a relationship. But when it came time to record “My Curse”, one of the darkest moments on the album, he didn’t think he had it in him. “I tried to sing it, but it was kinda really impossible for me to do,” he told Loose Lips Sink Ships back in 2005.
As per its extended title, this is a 21st-anniversary celebration of The Afghan Whigs’ fourth full-length release. Their most successful and acclaimed record, its reissue follows on from the band’s 2012 reunion. While this might be 2014, where little has the ability to shock anymore, hearing the unashamed sexual lasciviousness of Be Sweet – which, really, just reveals man’s true nature – is still powerful and disturbing.
"What should I tell her? She's going to ask…" These words, murmured by frontman Greg Dulli over a slithering, tendril guitar line like a snare tightening around its prey, open Gentlemen, the third album by the Afghan Whigs. Part-confessional, part-boast, part-catharsis, the album is as bleak and unforgiving an examination of love, lust, addiction and oblivion as the 1990s ever delivered. What, then, does Dulli tell "her", and also us? Only everything.
Although the jury is still out for some long-time fans on the merits of The Afghan Whigs’ official comeback album, Do To The Beast, released earlier this year, there is little doubt that the discography of the band’s previous lifespan has been in need of some deluxe reupholstering and reappraisal. Whilst it might have made more sense to start with a long-overdue reissue of the incredibly rare – and painfully expensive – 1988 debut LP Big Top Halloween or at least with 1992’s mighty coming of age Congregation, 1993’s Gentlemen is certainly not a bad choice, being the group’s most iconic and most discussed album. The question is though; how does it sound in a 2014 context? Remarkably fresh, is the relief-filled answer.