As he enters the latter part of his career Afghan Whigs’ mainman Greg Dulli seems to be tapping into a rich vein of creativity.
After 2017’s brooding, lascivious In Spades comes solo album Random Desire which, while tackling familiar lyrical preoccupations, feels more experimental in terms of instrumentation and tone.
Opener Pantomima (see video below), for example, launches with a bass beat intro, before splashes of distorted guitar crash in.
Lyrically it begins with a typically bleak “Desolation, come and get it,” but the mood shifts over the course of the song, Dulli’s multi-layered vocals crossing each other as if in some kind of internal debate.
It’s a pattern that’s repeated across the album, with changes in tone and mood a recurring motif.
Songs like Sempre, Scorpio and The Tide start quietly before building to a sudden explosion or crescendo, only to fall away again into an eerie calm.
In these moments Dulli’s voice barely rises above a fractured whisper, his powers drained and passion spent.
The first solo album under his own name, rather than a band alias, Random Desire was at least partly the product of necessity.
As In Spades wrapped, drummer Patrick Keeler left briefly to record and tour with The Raconteurs, while bassist John Curley decided to renew his studies.
Worst of all, guitarist Dave Rosser, such an important part of recent Dulli projects, succumbed to a rare form of colon cancer, only a month after In Spades’ release.
Left to his own devices, Dulli initially envisioned Random Desire as a completely solo project, playing all the instruments himself, before inviting a few trusted collaborators to contribute after the music was written.
No surprise then, that this album feels more stark and intimate than its predecessor.
Tracks like Marry Me and Slow Pan are weaved around simple, repetitive guitar lines, but the sheer emotion of Dulli’s performance lends them extra weight and complexity.
It Falls Apart builds from a deceptively spartan arpeggio, sweeping keyboards and even handclaps add layers of depth to this subtly moving tune.
Other standouts include Lockless, where glitchy electronica and horns are meshed in a mournful warning of the dangers of desire.
But perhaps best of all is the Latin-flavoured A Ghost, where steel guitar, maracas and portentous Nick Cave-like strings combine with spookily sinister results.
“I’ve got things to do before I fade away,” Dulli sings in The Tide. On this form let’s hope he’s true to his word.
- Random Desire is out now via Royal Cream/BMG records. More via this link.
- Coronavirus restrictions permitting, Greg Dulli’s North America tour starts April 24, 2020 – full details from his website.