The first half of the '90s brought us so many masterpiece albums, especially from the Grunge and Alternative Rock scene. In our opinion, one album remains a powerful, yet tragically underrated masterpiece: "The Afghan Whigs" "Gentlemen", released on October 5, 1993.
This magnum opus, written by Greg Dulli during the tour for the band's 1992 "Congregation" album, isn't just an album; it's a haunting journey through the harrowing corridors of a doomed relationship. Greg Dulli, the enigmatic frontman, drew inspiration from Francis Ford Coppola's 1982 film "One from the Heart," finding kinship with its lead character, a flawed individual struggling with his own nature. Dulli sought to traverse the murky depths of the '90s male psyche, exploring the dark recesses often left unexamined.
As an amateur filmmaker in his youth, Dulli's creative impulse finds manifestation in this sonic narrative. The album's thematic concept draws from Coppola's film, mirroring the lead character's internal conflict. Dulli's goal was aimed to dive headlong into the abyss, peeling back layers of emotional complexities with each track.
Musically, "Gentlemen" is a revelation. It blends Alternative, Grunge, Post Punk and Hard Rock drawing influences from R&B and Soul music. Having previously covered Motown classics in the "Uptown Avondale" EP, Dulli introduces a more soft approach by employing minor keys and deliberate slow-paced tunes. Even Van Morrison's seminal "Astral Weeks" serves as a touchstone for Dulli, providing inspiration for weaving recurring melodic motifs and lyrical imagery throughout the album. All over the album, you can feel how the buoyant melodies counterbalance raw, heart-wrenching lyrics. This venture into the shadows begs the question: how deep can one descend into the abyss of human emotion?
The album kicks off with "If I Were Going" an eerie, melancholic tone. The haunting guitar work and Greg Dulli's soulful vocals set the stage for the emotional rollercoaster that follows. The lyrics are introspective, evoking a sense of longing and self-reflection.
The title track "Gentlemen", which was released as the first single from the album, bursts in with a frenetic energy. It's a relentless exploration of lust and desire, driven by a dynamic rhythm section. Dulli's vocals are impassioned, delivering lines that sear with intensity.
Right after comes "Be Sweet" - a standout track that balances aggression with vulnerability. The jagged guitar riffs and Dulli's raspy voice delivery create a perfect juxtaposition. The chorus is infectious, and the lyrics oscillate between pleading and confrontational, sometimes even exposed as Dulli sings:
"Ladies, let me tell you about myself,
I got a dick for a brain,
And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you..."
Then comes the "hit" "Debonair" which was the second single released from the album. This track epitomizes the "Afghan Whigs'" ability to meld rock with soul influences. The instrumentation is dark and sultry, while Dulli's vocals exude confidence. The chorus is a hook that sinks its teeth in, leaving a lasting impression.
"When We Two Parted" is a poignant ballad that showcases Dulli's lyrical prowess. The stripped-down arrangement allows the emotional weight of the lyrics to take center stage. It's a gut-wrenching reflection on heartbreak and regret.
"Fountain and Fairfax" serves as the album's midpoint. It takes a slightly more subdued turn, but the intensity remains palpable. The brooding atmosphere and Dulli's evocative storytelling make this track a standout.
Then comes "What Jail Is Like", a song about a twisted crazy love affair. This was the first song Dulli wrote for "Gentleman". A culmination of the album's themes, exploring the complexities of passion and pain. The instrumentation is textured, with layers of guitar and percussion creating a rich sonic landscape.
"My Curse" is an encapsulation of the album's darker undertones. The music is brooding and intense. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of a tumultuous relationship. This song is so intense that Greg Dulli decides not to sing it. He asked Marcy Mays of the band "Scrawl" to sing lead on this one, Some say because the song hit too close to home for Dulli.
"Now You Know" has a mid-pace tempo and a more restrained musical arrangement. This track offers a moment of respite. Dulli's vocals are introspective, reflecting on the lessons learned from heartache.
"I Keep Coming Back" is the only cover song in the album. Soul singer Tyrone Davis originally recorded the song in 1970. Greg Dulli listened to the slow ballad almost every night before he went to bed in the early '90s, and decided to put it in the album. He introduced it to his bandmates at the last-minute during recording sessions. They all swapped instruments, so everybody was playing a different instrument on it. It is a powerful testament to the cyclical nature of love and desire. The music is hypnotizing, leaving the listener with a sense of unresolved tension. Dulli referred to it in one of his interviews, saying: "It seemed like a good way to end it... and then we turned it into a strange instrumental at the end, which gave it the cinematic closing".
This masterpiece album ends with the mentioned instrumental “Brother Woodrow/Closing Prayer”, playing out in the background, just like a film’s closing credits.
Legacy-wise, "Gentlemen" is more than an album; it's a cultural touchstone. It finds itself in esteemed company, nestled within the pages of "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die." "Treble", recognizing its impact, placed "Gentlemen" at number 22 in its list of the 30 best grunge albums. "Spin" Magazine elevated it further, ranking it 141 in their list of "The 300 Best Albums of the Past 30 Years (1985-2014)". Not without a reason it is considered by critics to be "the Afghan Whigs'" greatest album, and among the best-written breakup albums of all times.
"Gentlemen" is a masterwork of alternative rock, unflinchingly diving into the complexities of human relationships. Greg Dulli's lyrics are a raw, unvarnished reflection of passion, pain, and longing. The music, equally compelling, serves as the perfect backdrop, creating an emotional journey that resonates long after the final note fades away.