Gentlemen by The Afghan Whigs still ranks way up there on my favorite albums of the 1990s list. I didn't even discover that disc until almost 5 years after it had come out, but I was instantly hooked. It's one of those releases in which every song hits in just the right spots, and although they aren't the prettiest ones, it still gets me every time I listen to it. Lead man Greg Dulli has always been known as sort of a loose cannon, and when the Afghan Whigs basically dissolved, I sort of lost track of his whereabouts.
As it turns out, he made his re-entry in the group The Twilight Singers in the year 2000 with the album Twilight. Co-produced by Fila Brazilia, it was a sonically interesting album, but one that didn't nearly live up to the work that Dulli had done with his former group (it didn't help that he shared singing duty with two other people). Blackberry Belle is both a triumphant return for the group (an ever-revolving cast of musicians), and Dulli himself, marking the best set of songs that he's done since his work with The Afghan Whigs.
The biggest notable difference between this release and the previous one by the group is that Dulli seems to have his swagger back (this is confirmed by a recent performance seeing the group). Although it was interesting for him to share vocal duties on the first disc, Dulli is at his best when he's front and center, and he seems to be back to savoring life again (for better or worse). The disc opens with what might as well be a two-part track in "Martin Eden" and "Esta Noche." The first track staggers to live with piano and building guitar while Dulli adds filtered vocals before exploding into louder choruses. The latter continues a similar melody on rhodes before moving into a completely different direction with slightly bluesy guitar and an ending that bursts with horns.
If the first two tracks were the setup, "Teenage Wristband" is the track that knocks things down. Opening with delayed piano melody, the track bursts forth with blistering guitars and the best vocal melody and lyrics that Dulli has laid down in a long time (you will find yourself repeating the line "You wanna go for a ride? / I've got 16 hours to burn and I'm gonna stay up all night long after the album stops spinning). "St. Gregory" arrives as a nice cooldown track afterwards, and it's one of the only tracks on the release that retains the more electronic production of the first release by the group.
From there, it's onto the slow surges of "The Killer" and the almost honky-tonk of "Papillon." The second half of the album doesn't stack up quite as well against the more exciting first, but there are still some great tracks and Dulli seems to be back closer to his old self in terms of delivery. Although it's a bit overproduced in places, it really does sound like a continuation in terms of sound that the Afghan Whigs may have done. If you're an AW fan who was let down by the first release by The Twilight Singers, this is a reason to give them another chance.