In Spades reminds us of why Afghan Whigs were so innovative in their prime.Sub Pop, 2017
7.9 / 10
What’s immediately apparent after hearing The Afghan Whigs second album following their reformation is that Do to the Beast was just a buffer. It served its purpose as a comeback album. Now, the rust no longer clings to the band as they deliver a true follow-up to their past legacy. In Spades doesn’t sludge around in one genre of music like Do to the Beast. This album reminds us of why Afghan Whigs were so innovative in their prime. Back when they brought together punk, rock, and soul music. “This is the first time since Black Love that we’ve done a full-blown band album,” says frontman Greg Dulli. And by God, they are still capable of doing it with style.
Even though this album lands square in 2017, it has a classic rock sound to it. However, that doesn’t mean outdated or retro. Rather, it’s nostalgic and confident in what it’s doing. Dulli and company don’t have to figure things out, just apply what they know. A hodgepodge of styles that still mix together as fresh ingredients years later. Dulli previously hinted at In Spades being a darker album as if the cover art didn’t clue you in. Demons appear repeatedly in the lyrics, and some of the song titles also suggest dabbling with the occult: “The Spell”, “Light as a Feather”, “Demon In Profile”. However, there are no special messages to be found playing this record backwards.
Really, In Spades is a versatile showing from the band. “Birdland”, a song title which references Dulli’s neighborhood from his youth, opens the album with a theatrical, jazzy sound. It’s almost something you’d expect to hear on an album from San Fermin rather than The Afghan Whigs. The band follows this opener up with an absolute monster of a song, “Arabian Heights”, which immediately conjures evil spirits all around it. Dulli’s voice sounds fearful of the things he sings about while also a little sinister. Patrick Keeler’s drums are simply black magic.
“Toy Automatic” rings loudest as the album’s emotional high point. Horns swell to epic heights, as Greg Dulli sings as if his voice could go out like the flame of a candle. Everything comes together to deliver a crushing blow that’s hard to recover from. In Spades ends on just as strong as a high note as everything that’s come before it. “Into The Floor” sounds like one of the artsier metal songs of the ‘80s. Almost symphonic with breezy guitar riffs, the song transforms into a colossal beast as it comes to a thrilling end. Hopefully, it’s really a beginning of a new era for The Afghan Whigs, who sound hungrier than ever.