As a kid, I remember my older sister had an Afghan Whigs poster on her wall. Well, probably less of a poster and more of a full-page Rolling Stone ad for Gentlemen taped up next to her desk, but either way, her room was an art-laden den of secrets and flannel. Listening to In Spades, the band’s eighth studio album, I almost feel like I'm in her doorway again; incense and drip candles burning, waiting to be invited across that threshold.
In Spades expands upon the Whigs' reputation as balladeers of the darker side of love and humanity. It's an extremely romantic album in the classical sense; dark and foreboding, like chains laid over velvet. There's an aura of mysticism around songs like "Oriole" and "Birdland," and the album, at times, dances along the razor's edge of goth, with lyrics like "Throw a spider in the corner of the dance floor" ("Arabian Nights"). But the driving, grunge-Americana guitars keep it from falling into the cake-makeup abyss.
And it's these lush, soaring instrumentals that buoy lyrics that, upon closer look, read like a 9th grader's poetry assignment written 15 minutes before class starts. "Too late / My lie / Had been cast to the dark side of /Do or die." But songs are meant to be listened to, not read, and without looking too closely, these are songs to get lost in.
Greg Dulli's voice hasn't lost its edge or ability to send a beautiful chill to your bones, but occasionally gets muted, as though he's singing behind Plexiglas. This likely has less to do with age and more to do with studio production.
As an adult, I think I finally understand why my sister liked this weirdly-named band so much. And while I probably won't hang a poster on my wall (the album art is pretty cool, though) In Spades feels like a fond trip to someplace I used to dream of going someday—wholly new and somehow familiar.
Notable Tracks: “Birdland” | “Copernicus” | “Oriole”