The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
There's a missing spark on the new album from The War on Drugs
Up until 2014's Lost in the Dream, Adam Granduciel and co had only really been known and loved within the independent music bubble. The band’s first two records had cemented a popularity amongst those who found themselves lost in the band's serene, stoned guitar grooves and chugging drum beats. The songs weren’t polished enough to be truly radio friendly, something that was addressed for the aforementioned Lost in the Dream.
It was on that third record that Granduciel put his love for the titans of American rock (Dylan, Springsteen et al) front and centre, and created an album that found the perfect balance between touching creative expression and FM radio foot-stompers. Its brilliance didn’t go unnoticed, and as the band went to start work on their fourth record major label Atlantic Records swooped in to pick up the tab.
The decision to sign to an imprint with more commercial clout is one that characterises A Deeper Understanding. Atlantic recognised it was the arena-sized guitar solos and horizon-distance soundscapes that helped Lost in the Dream break through to a wider audience, and have run with it. A Deeper Understanding makes these characteristics its bedrock. Opener Up All Night sets the tone immediately, with juddering synths and squalling guitars that you can imagine reverberating around a stadium. It’s perhaps the song most reliant on electronic effects from the band to date, giving it a glossy, audible sheen. Lead single Holding On follows in the same vein, and sees the band go full-Springsteen.
The album’s best moments, however, are those that would have sounded most at home on Lost in the Dream. The likes of Pain, and the 11 minute opus that is Thinking of a Place, find that balance of grit and grandeur and feel like it was Granduciel that had the final say in their creation. While stylistically The War on Drugs have never released anything revolutionary, A Deeper Understanding lacks that spark that their previous releases had, which could well be due in part to their move to a new major label home.
Listen to: Pain, Thinking of a Place