The Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen, originally released in 1993, not only represents the band’s major-label debut, but it’s also the platonic ideal of the group’s sound. Over the course of 11 tracks, the Whigs melded the sultry slink of R&B with the jagged crunch of indie rock, all fueled by frontman Greg Dulli’s sly, savage take on relationships.
On October 27, Rhino will release Gentlemen at 21, a deluxe reissue of the album celebrating the fact that it has finally reached drinking age. In addition to the original remastered album, there are 17 bonus tracks that include a bunch of b-sides, live performances, and the original Gentlemen demos.
Those demos reveal that Gentlemen was more or less fully formed by the time the Whigs arrived in Memphis to record the album. “We had the advantage of having performed those songs in front of people for quite a while,” Dulli says. “Gentlemen was by and large written on the road, so those songs were intact, and you can hear the intactness on the demos. We had them hammered out and the arrangements were pretty airtight. Then we just went into the studio and went mad. We were kind of a wild bunch back then, and the sessions themselves and the nights and mornings around them were kind of chaotic. It’s a very visceral record. I was kind of a raw nerve during that particular time in my life and lived life to its absolute limits while I was doing it. Method recording, that’s basically the best way to describe it.”
You can stream the demo for the fantastically funky and lyrically brutal “Debonair” below. That particular recording was done at Ultrasuede Studios in Cincinnati, a relatively modest space. “It was above a pottery shop on the corner of a neighborhood called Northside, which had yet to be gentrified. It was considerably sketchier back then,” says Dulli. “The pottery guy was a nice old guy who let us go up and drive his customers insane.”
“I remember trying to merge ‘I Want You Back’ by the Jackson Five to the opening theme of Twin Peaks,” Dulli says of the writing of “Debonair.” “I actually do feel like I was successful. Lyrically, it was my own personal dressing down of myself. It’s self-flagellating. It always felt to me like lighting the fuse on the dirty bomb.”
Though the Gentlemen era was intense, Dulli looks back on it fondly. “It’s sort of like looking at a lens that has a lot of Vaseline and dust on it,” he says. “You can kind of see, but it happened so fast and it happened kind of under the influence, so a lot of the memories are at best imagined. They’re apocryphal.”
Gentlemen at 21 will be released on CD and digital download on October 27, with a three-LP deluxe vinyl edition arriving on November 28 for Record Store Day. The band is back on the road for another few tour dates, including their first ever headlining gig in Mexico City.
The Afghan Whigs Tour Dates
October 23 – San Francisco (The Fillmore)
October 24 – Solana Beach, CA (Belly Up)
October 25 – Los Angeles (Fonda Theatre)
October 28 – Salt Lake City (Urban Lounge)
October 29 – Denver (Bluebird Theater)
October 31 – Austin, TX (The Mohawk)
November 15 – Mexico City (Pasaguero)