The War On Drugs or Adam Granduciel with guests, release their/his third album and almost erase their indie rock status with a reincarnation of accessible eighties rock. Incorporating a mixture of real drums and punchy machines (probably Linn drum) Grandauciel has fashioned a fascinating post modern exercise in reinventing the past – if only slightly.
Ironically the most intriguing thing about this album is its commerciality. Housewives and househusbands that do not investigate the deep channels of musical adventure in the world, responsible well dressed employees in offices and shops, people that have never heard of Skrillex or Daft Punk but love Springsteen or Rod Stewart, David Gray or Dire Straits could find themselves with a new anti-hero to follow. He has all the necessary elements, catchy beats, easy lines, sad lyrics, personal issues and singing style that owes everything to Bob Dylan. An unlikely Waterboys, Fleetwood Mac hybrid from Philadelphia? Or perhaps even a 21st century Bob Seger, because there’s buttons pushed here that don’t sit too far away from some basic traditional rock elements.
There’s still the indie side, less shameless structures than a real commercial act would have, no clichés and guitar sounds that the guitarist came up with, not the producer. It’s not manipulated by outside forces, just the forces inside Granduciel’s head and somehow he has taken what might have been the uncoolest moments of those scary eighties and in mixing them together with some truly personal confessions and unabashed Dylanesque delivery, drum machines and organic guitars, has created a new foot-tapping yet thoughtful monster that means something.
Successful formulas appear in the strangest of places. Still, there’s odd parts in some of the songs as the opener Under Pressure takes a turn that may scare away the less concentrated of potential fans, but we are straight back into clearer skies in Red Eyes, the first single from the album.
The tone changes for Suffering, slow paced and break-up lyrics with piano and effected guitars, expressive as the words and a drum machine that tips the song toward a sadder spilling of the soul than perhaps organic drums would – but I don’t know why and therein lies the magic and the problem.
An Ocean Inbetween The Waves carries you along in a Motorik, Young Turks, yes that’s a Kraut Rock Rod Stewart – believe it or not! Some tasty Les Paul guitar sounds keep it on the right side of the R’n’R fence.
Disappearing has something Tears For Fears about it, Eyes To The Wind bounces around in Dylan, Petty, Seger territory and others of that ilk. But it’s also a moody soup with less obvious mainstream guitar licks.
The Haunting Idle is back to a kind of R’n’R ambience, theme music for a left of centre Johnny Depp movie that he hasn’t made yet with segue way into Burning that visits Young Turks again, but this time it’s in the riff.
The tile track is a whole lot mellower country rock affair but oddly for all its sensitivity as a song he chooses to have quite straight un-feeling drums as his rhythm. It makes me wonder why? Where’s Russ Kunkel? This approach makes him appeal to a newer generation of reviewers and listeners, nobody seems to notice the missing human element.
In Reverse closes the album and continues the deadpan rhythm that characterises the album as it plods away under a poignant song. I get what he’s doing and like it and I appreciate the difference the part-machine element makes. But however much the use of these linear patterns sets him apart from the old music world in his reinvention of it, I feel like I will still go back to Jackson Browne albums for a style that is better expressed organically. Don’t get me wrong, this is a strong album! But it’s only right now, today, that this new slant is important to him, the fans and the young critics alike, otherwise it would be just plain retro. (Plus recording costs are substantially lower if you can make most of it work at home with machines). In years to come the need to show distance from the past as it influences you, won’t be as important as the unwavering sonic longevity of the originals show what the key elements in this type of music really are. Prove me wrong in 2030.