THE WAR ON DRUGS
PHILADELPHIAN TRUTH-SEEKER REVS UP FOR ANOTHER ROAD TRIP BETWEEN THE COSMIC AND THE CLASSIC.
Can Adam Granduciel meet expectations on his band’s keenly awaited fourth album? (right)
THE WAR ON DRUGS A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING ATLANTIC, OUT 25 AUGUST
There’s a thin line between attention to detail and obsessive perfectionism, and Adam Granduciel’s tendencies in both directions have been welldocumented throughout The War On Drugs’ career. Their unexpectedly decisive 2014 breakthrough, Lost In The Dream, was rewritten and rewritten again before its final release; Granduciel has recently spoken wryly of sleepless nights thinking about kick drum sounds. No wonder, then, that when he sings, “I want to find what can’t be found” on the beautifully wracked Pain, the second track on this unhurried fourth album, it rings out like a clear mission statement. This is a band who always seem to be on a quest, sometimes collapsing back on the sofa in a daze, but never quitting. A Deeper Understanding redoubles their efforts to find not only the perfect sound – that kick drum! – but those big, nebulous things like love and truth and self-knowledge. It’s not, then, a modest record, an unassuming space-filler. There is, at times, a hazy vagueness to it, but it would be an error to think that the urgent pulse of In Chains, or the woozy ballad Clean Living (“All this living and no life”) could ever fade into the background. More of a full band project after Lost In The Dream’s effectively solo operation, it’s noticeably lusher, more expansive, tape loops and synths and mellotrons creating a shimmering field of vision at the edges of even the straightest songs. As with its predecessors, A Deeper Understanding knows how to keep the solid black tarmac-strip of radio-friendly rock beneath its endlessly spinning wheels: Bruce Springsteen, Daniel Lanois-produced Bob Dylan, and on the ghostly Walk Of Life synth riff of Nothing To Find, Dire Straits. Opening track Up All Night, a fine rival for Lost In The Dream’s Under The Pressure, holds a lighter under Bruce Hornsby’s The Way It Is until it starts to melt round the edges. That this cosmic AOR doesn’t pall, doesn’t become a gimmick or parody, is largely down to the constant tension between the drive-time classicism and the space-race futurism, between blue-collar rock and blue-sky thinking, two different coordinates of the Americana dream. It says a lot about Granduciel’s subtlety and suppleness as a songwriter that, even over 11 minutes, Thinking Of A Place is one of A Deeper Understanding’s highlights. Never losing focus, it’s a song in a slow state of constant evolution, the opening synth wash blossoming into a fresh-cut country chug. It’s like watching gpa painter at work on a timelapse camera, slowly building up an emotional scene, a guitar smudge, a splash of harmonica, suddenly changing the mood from elated to exhausted and back again. There are striking lyrical images here: a man with a broken back (“He had a fear in his eyes I could understand”) on the Neil Young mood-board of Pain, or the tangibly “glowing” love pouring out of an ominous hole in the head on Up All Night. Yet it is the intricate push-andpull of the music that communicates A Deeper Understanding’s sense of physical and mental yearning, its blissful conviction that if you keep moving, answers will come. Or, as Granduciel puts it on the exhilarating guitar swan-dive of Holding On, “I keep moving with these changes.” The War On Drugs might never
quite find what they’re looking for – it would almost be a shame if they did – but with a record as gloriously realised as A Deeper Understanding, it feels like they’re getting closer every day.
VICTORIA SEGAL Listen To: Up All Night | Pain | Thinking Of A Place
IT KEEPS THE SOLID BLACK TARMAC-STRIP OF RADIO-FRIENDLY ROCK UNDER ITS WHEELS.