Another Herculean effort from Adam Granduciel’s sextet, but at what cost?
The War On Drugs A Deeper Understanding ATLANTIC CD/DL/LP
ROCK HAS always had its perfectionists; restless folks lamenting the gulf between the record they hear in their heads and the one emanating from their speakers. Adam Granduciel of TWOD is one such; the kind of creative who doesn’t believe in down-time, just a constant chipping at the marble block that might yet yield the sonic equal of Michelangelo’s David. His band’s sprawling, epic fourth album runs close to 70 minutes, with many more left on the cutting-room floor. Behind walls of sound hewn from layered electric and acoustic guitars, Wurlitzer, brass, piano and more, there’s a sense of Granduciel and his Philadelphia-based sextet striving for transcendence. This is a band out to revitalise the hoary old scarecrow of rock, stuffing it with lightning not sawdust. But Granduciel isn’t about to sacrifice his ongoing love for the canon while they try. On Pain, one of two songs here nailed moreor-less live at Sonora Studios, Los Angeles with Alabama Shakes engineer Shawn Everett at the controls, this writer hears the nostalgic ache of Don Henley circa The End Of The Innocence. Opener Up All Night, meanwhile, is the album’s poppiest moment by far, and when its syncopated bass and tom-tom rhythm kicks in, it could almost be a Lindsey Buckingham song from Fleetwood Mac’s Tango In The Night. These and other nods to classic AOR – In Chains packs a Springsteen-like expansiveness; Knocked Down is more drive-time than Alan Partridge’s gloves – are filtered through the transformative lens of hip, late 2017 indie, then buffed via the attention to detail for which Granduciel is well-known as a producer. The album’s lyrics are rather opaque; vague if obviously heartfelt allusions to lost love and personal travails that read part cutup method, part modern myth. “There’s a story [here] about looking at your life and wondering how to hold onto the things that only you know make you you”, Granduciel has said, but this is rather unsatisfying; a small rabbit of meaning disappearing down a hole. With Thinking Of A Place, all spectral synth intro and Dylanesque vocal delivery, clocking in at 11-minutes plus, Knocked Down feels almost fleeting at just under four minutes. Refreshingly uncluttered, and firmly rooted in the ’70s thanks to its chiming Wurlitzer, it is also a clear and beautifully sung stand-out. A Deeper Understanding is exhilarating in places, but perhaps inevitably, given its long and convoluted gestation, it can at times feel like it’s trying too hard. The album can also feel insular, the insights promised by the title Granduciel’s reward for making it, not ours for listening to it.