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Be Sweet: Chicago critic gets personal in slamming new Afghan Whigs album

 

There’s kind of an unspoken rule that you don’t call out fellow critics on their reviews of albums, shows or even just regular old rants; the old cliche is true – opinions are like…well, you know the rest, so what’s the point anyway. But Chicago-based journalist Jim DeRogatis has delivered a scathing review of the Afghan Whigs’ first album in 16 years, Do to the Beast, for WBEZ which stinks of elitism and sublime individualized vendetta.

Now, we’re big on The Whigs here at Vanyaland, even giving away a white label vinyl test pressing of the new record. Not everyone is going to fall in line with that ethos – we get that. Yet when something is written with such unbridled snobbery and insulting inaccuracy as the DeRogatis piece, it just further cements the idea that music writers are nothing more than pompous pricks with a pen – or an Internet connection.

In the first sentence, DeRogatis admits that Whigs frontman Greg Dulli has, “always left me cold.” Right there all objectivity has gone out the window. Why even attempt to string a sentence together about a subject when from the get go you can’t be open-minded?

 

Then DeRogatis gets way personal, attacking Dulli’s well-documented battles with substances like heroin and cocaine by calling it “drug-addled…shtick,” a tactic beyond shameful. Had the frontman offed himself as a result of his addictions, maybe there would be a sense of premature martyrdom that surrounds the ghost of Kurt Cobain these days? Instead, Dulli got his demons under control and became prolific as a solo artist, within the Twilight Singers collective and in a partnership under the Gutter Twins moniker with Mark Lanegan, who DeRogatis inexplicably calls, “slightly less bro-ish,” because you can just picture Dulli and Lanegan showing up at a BU kegger with popped collars and wayfarers under a tilted-to-the-side baseball cap.

DeRogatis sums up the Whigs’ catalog up until now as “campy Blaxploitation.” Is that what Usher was looking for when he tapped the band to collaborate with him at last year’s critically acclaimed SXSW performance? Surely “Blaxploitation” is what the entirety of the Whigs’ 1992 Uptown Avondale postcard sendoff EP to Sub Pop Records represented, what with its truthful renditions of tracks made famous by The Supremes, Al Green and Percy Sledge.

 
 

Most laughably, Derogatis calls the Whigs return a, “cash-in comeback” that exists solely, “for the benefit of Dulli’s tax return.” Before this reunion, Dulli was doing just fine financially, thanks. He is playing the same sized venues now as with any of the aforementioned projects – including for his solo gigs. It might be hard to grasp, but is it possible that Dulli wanted to do this because he felt the desire to revisit the past and make new music in the similar vein with friends old and new?

The end of the review bookends how the headline decried Do to the Beast as, “unlikely to win any new fans,” especially affirmed opponent DeRogatis. The latter, probably; but plenty of new fans have jumped on board. The album debuted at number 32 on this week’s Billboard charts, the Whigs highest debut ever. And while the equally misinformed proclaim vinyl as a dead medium, Do to the Beast landed at number 2 – beating out new releases and heavily promoted Record Store Day specials by Bruce Springsteen, Jimi Hendrix and the Flaming Lips.

The moral here is nobody has the same penchants when it comes to music, and that’s fine. But when it comes to tastemakers or, at the very least, educated and supposedly impartial informers, a little less bias is always appreciated unless there is logic to back it up that doesn’t come from a place seemingly built on resentment.