THE AFGHAN WHIGS – Up In It (1990)

April 10th, 1990, The Afghan Whigs released their second album Up In It on Sub Pop Records.

Hailing from Cincinnati, The Afghan Whigs signed with Sub Pop Records in 1989. At that time the label would be completely unaware that in just a few short years, it would become a conduit for one of the most seismic shifts in rock culture ever.

By 1989/90 Sub Pop was tentatively casting their net further that just the Pacific Northwest with the signing of Texan psychobilly trio The Reverend Horton Heat, The Fluid and The Afghan Whigs among others.

Up In It was recorded and produced by Jack Endino in Seattle in September 1989 and featured Greg Dulli, John Curley, Rick McCollum and Stevie Earle. The album saw a leap forward from their 1988 debut Big Top Halloween. Greg Dulli was yet to solidify the potent mix of rock, gritty RnB, confessional lyricism and a cock sure strut that would serve him so well up to the present day. But, there’s an undeniable rush of adrenaline that courses through this album, and it carries all the hallmarks of what would make the Whigs so great.

Songs like “Hey Cuz”, “Sammy” and “I Am the Sticks,” display the bands delivery of sparkling gutter-rock. Vital, thrashing guitars clash with frantic drums, driven further and further toward the darkness, by Dulli’s dangerously sexy persona and gritty delivery.

As a songwriter, Greg Dulli was starting to really get in touch with his self-loathing “Retarded,” “White Trash Party,” and “I Know Your Little Secret” offer a powerful and sometimes disturbing look into one man’s obsessions. Just as importantly, the band had finally learned to make the most of their musical muscle; Greg Dulli’s nicotine-laced growl merged a rasping bellow with a soul man’s sense of phrasing, while the guitars of Dulli and Rick McCollum and the rhythm section of John Curley and Steve Earle managed to combine bruising power with a remarkable sense of drama and dynamics.

Up In It was the band’s first recording to suggest that they would mature into one of the best American rock bands of the 1990s. While many bands of that time looked to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and 70’s/80’s punk for inspiration, The Afghan Whigs were one of the few that fully grasped not just the heaviness of those bands, but their precision, their timing, and their understanding of R&B. Dulli embodied the spirit of a character from a Raymond Chandler novel. A man in lockstep with the darker side of life and one who was willing to tell you all the secrets of the underworld in great cinematic detail.

While Up In It pales in comparison to what the Whigs would achieve on Congregation, Gentlemen, Black Love and 1965 (a perfect streak of albums that spanned the 90’s). The album made it clear the Afghan Whigs had truly arrived, and would not be ignored. They’re a band who rarely, if ever, put a foot wrong, right up to the present day. Up In It was the nascent first steps of one of the finest rock n roll bands of the past 40 years.