At seventeen, you think you know everything there is to know about love, heartbreak, and the matters that come in between. Little did I know that some scrawny white boy from Cincinnati could write an album that would explain so much more about how people could tear each other apart in relationships.
The Afghan Whigs were the first band ever signed to Sub Pop from outside Seattle. Their major label debut on Elektra Records marked the beginning of their turn from grunge/rock Midwestern bar band to a new sound that was more rooted in soul, R & B, and raw emotions. Although Congregation was a gateway album to this sound, Gentlemen put that final touch on their change into soul singers, particularly those from the heart.
Emotions abound on this album, whether it's the part of a jilted lover, a cruel battle/relationship that is constantly beginning and ending, a domineering control freak who insists that all actions are in his favor and you are against him, or a tortured soul who will crawl back to you no matter what the cost to forsake all others until his next trick on the sly.
The album reads out perfectly as a diary/story, starting out with its swagger. Showing off as a man who is, above all, a ladies man who can crush you with the power of his cunning wit, oozing lines such as, "I've got a dick for a brain/And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you." Seriously, could any woman resist a man with confidence like that who would have the guts to say that to her?
After a few tracks such as these, Gentlemen turns to the heartbreak, and when this man sings of such, it brings any woman to her knees, taking a man back no matter how dirty the deed done the night before ("If I inflict the pain, then, baby, only I can comfort you"). How perfect! How perfectly evil! To only think what may have happened to inflict those words to another...
The amazing and talented Marcy Mays from Scrawl steps in the main role for "My Curse" and perfectly kills the song as if it were written for her. Perfect in a way to show a woman with the prowess of a man who deserves the agony that she has been given ("Temptation come not from hell, but from above"). When the Whigs' Greg Dulli goes back and does this, it just doesn't do justice in the same way as Mays does.
Of course when you depart into soul, you're going to cover a sweet slow jam from the '70s, and this is what AW do here with Tyrone Davis's "I Keep Coming Back." Dulli croons the magic pleas of a confused man ("I wanna go away/But, honey, I just can't stay/See, I'm your fool/I lost my cool/And I wouldn't lie/But I lay down and cry").
As I think back years later to when Gentlemen came out, I still sit and listen to the perfect melodies that carry these stories. But I also try to think about where that man was at in his own head and heart when he had to sing what he had to say. I have heard the stories of an ending relationship and impressing a "working woman" while wasted out of his mind when he sang half of these tracks at Ardent Studios in Memphis. However it got out, this album will always stick in my mind as the man who broke my heart and crawled back on his knees to me, with the devil in tow, to only do it all over again.