Saturday, February 28, 2015

Book Review: Gentlemen by Bob Gendron


This entry in the 33 1/3 series is the first one that I've come across that covers an album that I'm actually familiar with. This is partly a matter of timing, as much as a matter of personal taste. The 1990s were the first time that I had any kind of an income that allowed me to actually own an album on CD (having only recently acquired a player) as opposed to checking out the clunky, over-played cassettes from the local library system.

"Indie-rock doesn't handle sex too well, particularly when openly discussed."

I picked up the Afghan Whigs for the same reason I would later latch on to Portishead: I was an R&B kid in a punk rock world.  There were a few vocalists left on the radio, but they were mainly of the squeaky, shiny Mariah Carey mold. All the post-Nirvana rock bands were equally cleaned up and made safe for the masses. This is a culture, after all, that had been recently shocked by George Michael's "I Want Your Sex."

So, I probably shouldn't have been surprised to find out that no one else bought Gentlemen when it came out in 1993. As author Bob Gendron points out, Greg Dulli gives us a break-up album, but one wherein the songs portray the typical rock'n'roll male attitude of excess and blame as being responsible for the situation. The woman may have done him wrong, but he's no better, and is probably addicted to the cycle to boot. Not really what the whiny, girl-allergic fans of Candlebox or The Offspring wanted to hear.

"There was a panel during [the 1993] College Music Journal Festival that I believe was actually titled 'How Do You Market the Afghan Whigs?' We were so fucking weird."

It takes a bit of slogging to get to that point in this book, however. There are a lot of great stories about the band, and some insights into ideas that made it onto the album. There is also a long track-by-track analysis that spends too much time telling the reader what the lyrics are saying in each song. Gendron obviously loves the album, and his enthusiasm is very apparent in every chapter. This may be a bit off-putting to casual listeners, who were probably not expecting an English 101 style examination. Be prepared to learn a lot about the Whigs, but also be prepared to just nod your head for a while until the author gets on with the next bit.

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