Dulli Noted

The Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli, in black, white and gray.

The tradition of defining Dulli by his strongest, angriest verbal affronts and by his personal takes on racial politics has continued on Black Love, in large part because there are plenty of them available for the perusing. Dulli admits that the album's handle was not chosen by accident: "With my history, I knew that sticking the word 'black' in there would tweak certain people. And I did it gleefully." But he was more interested in using the title symbolically, not literally. "I was thinking of Jim Thompson and especially James Ellroy," he says, referencing a pair of well-regarded purveyors of pulp fiction. "Ellroy's book The Black Dahlia was the big one. And if you look through the CD booklet, it's filled with Hollywood Babylon-style photographs, some of which I redid in the interest of not being sued. The whole thing is supposed to read like a dime-store crime novel."

With songs such as "Crime Scene Part One" and "Bulletproof," Black Love does indeed suggest an aural equivalent of noir. Dulli's soul influences are also on display: "There are a couple of tunes where I pulled up some Curtis Mayfield strings, and I copped 'Superstition' on one of the songs," he concedes. But there are also a handful of tender tracks in which Dulli consciously set out to subvert expectations. That the first batch of notices that greeted the album ignored these efforts chafes at him.

"The sweet songs are never mentioned in any review," he gripes. "'Step Into the Light,' 'Night by Candlelight,' 'Summer's Kiss' and 'Faded'--those four songs. If you listen to them, there's nothing there but hope, sweetness, longing--sentiments like that. But people aren't going to give me props for that stuff. Now, I could understand that on Gentlemen, because every song had a zinger. And maybe this time the absence of the zinger has made people suspicious. And as a result, they've taken the most sensational angles and tried to make me a one-dimensional creep. I guess I have to take it, but it's pretty unfair--and it's pretty lazy journalism, I think. Because of that, people are missing out on some of the most beautiful moments on the record."

If the slights of these scribblers become too much for him, Dulli has other career options; over the past year or so, he's become more involved with film. He provided the singing voice of John Lennon in Backbeat, last year's look at the Beatles' early years; the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner were also involved with the picture's Fab Four re-creations. More recently, he served as one of the executive producers for the soundtrack of Beautiful Girls, directed by Ted Demme and co-starring Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon and Mira Sorvino. The Whigs appear in the movie, playing Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe." Their version of the ditty is loving, but Dulli was forced to give it a bit of a twist. "We tried to play it Barry's way, and I swear to God, it sounded like The Love Boat theme. It works for him, but with us doing it, it was so sappy. So I was like, 'Okay, we've got to disembowel this one.'"

More recently, Dulli began developing his first feature film, which he may produce and/or direct. "I bought the film rights to this book called Spoken in Darkness, by Ann Imbrie--she's head of the English department at Vassar. It's sort of the classic good girl/bad girl story about two girls who are friends in junior high school but then kind of go their separate ways. But then the bad girl disappears, and the good girl goes back to find out what happens to her. And what she uncovers is just what I was talking about before--the good girl wasn't so good, and the bad girl wasn't so bad."

Neither is Dulli--but don't let that get around. He may not be a musician forever, but he'll always be a provocateur. He couldn't help needling folks back when he was passing out cornbread to baffled Los Angelenos, and he can't help it now. "When writers show their colors so early on in a piece--when they show that I've gotten to them," he says, fighting in vain to muffle a laugh, "I have to just stand back and admire my own fortitude."

The Afghan Whigs, with Howlin' Maggie. 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 7, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $12/$13 day of show, 830-2525 or 800-444-

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