Boy, is there something to be said for veteran musicians who still feel the urge to create. “Demon In Profile” is as enticing a slice of stylish, urgent rock’n’roll as I’ve heard in a good while, and is unimaginable as the product of anyone who hasn’t been at this game a good long time. Actually it’s unimaginable as the product of anyone who isn’t the Afghan Whigs, a band that in its day created one of the more singular catalogs of music in the popular and semi-popular realm.
The Cincinnati-based band did have a bit of an alternative-rock cultural moment in the early ’90s, moving up from Sub Pop Records to a major-label deal with Elektra, and then in 1993 releasing the widely acclaimed album Gentlemen. The Whigs always had a distinctive if somewhat elusive sound, funneling a grunge-y crunch into a musical landscape that tipped its hat to something soulful and unrestrained. Front man Greg Dulli combined a dramatic baritone with larger-than-life bravado, all excess and attitude. Never, however, quite hitting the mainstream, they did what they did until 2001, with one personnel change along the way, at which point they broke up, amicably. Ten years later, they were back, and in 2014 released their first album since 1998. They appear to mean business in their 21st-century incarnation, which includes only Dulli and bassist John Curley from the original lineup.
“Demon In Profile” slips in with a welcoming piano refrain that harkens back to AOR radio days (Al Stewart? Journey? something), then morphs assuredly into a midtempo rocker that’s equal parts swing and menace. Horns mix with electric guitars in a very satisfying way, undergirding melodies that feel inevitable and haunting; every section of this impressively concise song feels all but perfectly conceived. Dulli, meanwhile, sounds as in command as ever, and early on delivers the especially suggestive line “It was all that I wanted/Now it’s killing me.” If an all-out rock’n’roll dude like Dulli can stomp his way through middle age without keeling over I imagine he’ll continue to have some pretty interesting things to say.
“Demon In Profile” is the third of 10 songs on the new Afghan Whigs album In Spades, which was released earlier this month. The band is back on Sub Pop Records after all these years. You can listen to and purchase the album (available in vinyl as well) via Bandcamp. MP3 via KEXP.