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Spins: Greg Dulli • “Random Desire”

| April 1, 2020

Greg Dulli

Random Desire

(Royal Cream/BMG)

Calling this “the first solo album” by The Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli isn’t technically truthful – unless it’s a deliberate attempt to erase 2005’s Amber Headlights altogether. Whether first or second, it was time for another musical road less traveled for Dulli. Surviving way longer than most rock artists of the early ‘90s – in life and career – Dulli has managed to continue to evolve musically while remaining essential. Taking the approach of two of his favorite rock composers, Prince and Todd Rundgren, he originated each of these ten tracks on the piano before building them dimensionally with drum beats and bass lines – like sculptures or film scripts. The opener, “Pantomima” almost seems like it should be the revelatory closer. It’s the throwing back of the curtains and opening of the windows after a three-month wallow in self-pity post-breakup; there’s a glint of hope in the chiming guitar layers while Dulli chirps “I’m waiting on a breeze”…The optimistic tone carries over into the second track “Sempre” by way of bright acoustic guitar layered with Dulli’s falsetto and female harmonies. It is third track “Marry Me” that, like a film, cuts to a flashback, where Dulli has just watched his paramore walk out the door because he couldn’t commit. The song is dominated by acoustic guitar, but in contrast to the first two tracks, the picture is cold and gray. “The Tide” kind of rides the fence emotionally – like one in the middle stages of grief.

The second half of the record has echoes of the Whigs’ 1965 and Black Love with soul-tinged vocals and piano lines. “It Falls Apart” has an eery “Rhiannon” vibe. A couple of songs are likely influenced by his years of living in New Orleans. “A Ghost” is a brilliant Creole-flavored Spaghetti Western soundtrack, complete with wailing string section, pedal steel, castanets, and church bell. “Lockless” is a peculiar yet lovely funeral dirge, with slow-plodding rhythm, trip-hop backbeat, and horns crescendo-ing into a wail before fading off (also reminiscent of Rundgren’s Healer LP). Dulli also plays with his vocal instrument in ways he hasn’t on previous records, even resulting in moments where he’s almost unrecognizable; experiments that were successful nonetheless.

The closer, “Slow Pan,” brings us out of the flash and back to where we started – a simple repeating piano line finds our protagonist in the bargaining stage of grief:  “And I wanna feel it – Even if I have to steal it – I would do anything – I would do anything” – while a harp swirls around his words as if it’s all a dream — or a nightmare?  They say people mellow with age, and Dulli shows signs here, but in the same way that a good whiskey mellows in the barrel, the flavor’s less harsh, but that little burn in the back of the throat still hurts so good going down.

-Penelope Biver

8 out of 10

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Category: Columns, Featured, Spins

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