The War On Drugs- A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic)

If someone you know hasn’t heard the sound of The War Against Drugs before, I’d recommend getting a musical blender and adding the following ingredients. A dash of Foreigner, a bit of ELO, a good dose of the , 80’s Bob Dylan, quite a bit of Bryan Adams, and a good healthy slug of Neil Young’s Old Black guitar.

Blend that up and pour that in their ears and see what happens. Most names on this list would have got me quickly fired from my Student Radio show in the 1980’s but somehow Adam Granduciel and co manage to make it all acceptable to my indie ears most of the time.

On this, their 4th album, they make few radical changes to their sound doing pretty much what the title implies. Stretch songs out for 5,6 or 11  minutes in a quest for a deeper pass at what is now a well-established songwriting formula. A couple of verses, a guitar solo, another couple of verses, a solo to fade. Dress it up with vague imagery and romantic whimsy  ..the beauty & the pain/ It’s the strangest thing.

Have a slow ballad version ( Clean Living, Strangest Thing, Knocked Down) a faster version (Nothing To Find, Holding On) the mid tempo song that reminds you of the hit from the last album (Chains, Up All Night) and finishes with a couple of good long stares into the eternity pool with Clean Living and You Don’t Have To Go.

If I sound less than enthusiastic it is probably because there is nothing new going on here for me and I really struggle to not hear Foreigner emoting I Want To Know What Love Is on Strangest Thing with its spectral keyboards, slow reverb vocals and chimed guitar notes. Ditto Clean Living which is Bryan Adams  (Everything I Do) I Do It For You to my ears.

Now I am aware that not everyone has had to live through the power ballad years, so I have continued to listen to this album in an attempt for my prejudices to melt away.

Sonically it is a very intimate experience with precise instrumentation and arrangements that really shine, especially on the faster numbers like In Chains, Nothing To Find and opener Up All Night. Lyrically if I put my Van Morrison headphones on, the vagueness of the source of pain often mentioned in these songs and the soundscapes created to hang these lyrics on, allow me to engage with them by overlaying my own experiences onto the melodies.

This means on my good days the album feels like a comfortable pair of slippers, warm and encompassing in its understanding through pain messages. But then I get a voice in my head that says ” The Dire Straits revival is just round the corner” and I have to reach for one of my Birthday Party records to purge that memory.

Any millennials listening, of course, will not come to these songs with such fear and can enjoy them for their old but new sound, their stellar production and  that mix of of  80′ synthesizer sounds, minimal drums and wistful vocals that is awash in the current music scene. Me, I’ve still got my Waterboys, Talk Talk,  and Springsteen records and am very happy with those.

Brent Giblin