Sub Pop veterans the Afghan Whigs have been ploughing their own peculiar furrow through American rock for more than 30 years now.
In Spades is their second album of new material since returning to recording in 2014 with To The Beast.
It’s clear the break has done them good, original frontman Greg Dulli and bassist John Curley finding accomplished creative foils in guitarists Dave Rosser and Jon Skibic, Raconteurs’ drummer Patrick Keeler and multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson.
Described by Dulli as the first full-blown band album since 1996’s Black Love, In Spades shows they’ve lost none of their ambition.
It’s a rich, multi-textured collection, enhanced by lush string and brass arrangements throughout.
Dulli’s familiar lyrical preoccupation with the power struggles within relationships are to the fore again, blended with a sinister, spectral, even supernatural edge.
Lead single Demon In Profile, (see video starring Har Mar Superstar below) is a case in point.
With descending bass and piano chords, reminiscent of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, it’s dark rhythms flesh out the menacing, lascivious longing of the lyrics.
Themes of love and loss, possession, entrapment and flight permeate the album, as hints of the diabolical haunt in shadow and silhouette.
In Spades sees the Whigs coming closer, perhaps than ever before, to realising their vision of marrying the art-punk of bands like Husker Du, with the soulful r’n’b of the Motown Stax label and the hard-rock of Led Zeppelin.
There’s some dazzling intricate guitar work on songs like Arabian Heights and Into the Floor, proto-metal on Copernicus, dark electronica on The Spell and punk-funk on Light as a Feather.
Dulli’s voice is equally adaptable, ranging from rasping, ghostly falsetto, to anguished howl, to deep malevolent roar.
Never straightforward his lyrics are packed full of elusive and unusual metaphors, tracks like Oriole and I Get Lost, showing his talent for mood and characterisation.
In less capable hands such a mashing of genres could have been a jarring mess, but this is a captivating, coherent record.
Elusive, seductive and luxurious, In Spades is a solid contender for record of the year.
- In Spades is out on May 5 through Sub Pop Records details here
- Afghan Whigs visit the UK in May for three live shows at Manchester Cathedral (May 26), Glasgow O2 ABC (May 27) and Koko, London (May 30).