Thursday, 27 March 2014

The War On Drugs - Lost In The Dream (Album Review 2014)

The War On Drugs has been, and will always be, a band of one... Adam Granduciel has taken his labour of love further into his own mind on third album Lost In The Dream, to explore his conciousness, his life and his emotional state. It was always going to be tough to go one better than previous album Slave Ambient, a swirling vortex of prog-rock, subtle floating soundscapes and brilliant guitar-led pop songs - all washed with Granduciel's Dylan-like vocals. So, given the inward, self-indulgent nature of The War On Drugs, Lost In The Dream, a new album of material written mainly while touring, undergoing many rewrites and reworks, was never going to be as good.

But it is. Lost In The Dream is a different album than Slave Ambient, subtly different in its approach and delivery. While the previous album is big, bold and wide-eyed, Lost In The Dream is closed, introverted and personal. From opener Under The Pressure, it is clear that Granduciel wants to share his pain and anxiety of being in the spotlight and living up to expectations. At nearly nine minutes, this is the longest song on the album; it ebbs and flows with lifts and falls before the only truly weak point: instead of dropping into a quiet, ambient lull for a minute before returning with shining guitars and pounding drums for the big finish, absolutely nothing happens. A deliberate ironic statement about not following predictable convention? Possibly...but the lack of inspiration right from the start is a real surprise.

Red Eyes provides the early 'pop' song, blending ethereal synths and guitars with racing drums. The effect is not too far from Razorlight (back in their prime), Granduciel punchy and with purpose - even throwing in an over-exuberant woop before the guitars rain-down. In contrast, Suffering is light yet melancholy, slow-paced and beautifully sublime. The gorgeous piano arrangement in the second half contrasts the oddly-random guitar work. Then the album takes a more ambitious turn with the beguiling An Ocean In Between The Waves, which could be the Dire Straits song that never was; Granduciel more Knofler than Dylan while exquisite guitars and thumping drums lead to a frantic peppering of vocals in the second half.

Continuing the lighter feel of Lost In The Dream, Disappearing provides a superb centre-piece - shining like a magnificent 80s soft-rock influenced interlude between what has come and the second act. This starts with Eyes To The Wind, one of the best songs Granduciel has written - his vocals are exposed and the arrangement unwinds with a supreme elegance; the vocal delivery a nod toward former band-mate Kurt Vile. All this is blended with more guitars, drums and the most wonderful piano. What makes this so good is that Granduciel is not hiding behind a massive stadium-filling sound. This leads to the album's only return to a trick from its predecessor: the three-minutes of The Haunting Idle gives a brief Floyd-esque reprise, but without the original song, before the final trilogy...

...begins with another album highlight and superb pop song, Burning. This feels heavily Springsteen-fuelled with ever-present organ (circa Darkness On The Edge Of Town) and driving drums. And then the title track, with delicious (never-overused) harmonica, brings another moment of class to build like a lost Neil Young classic. Obvious influences aside, this is reinvention and reinterpretation of the tried and tested and not mere copycatting. To close, In Reverse is delivered as the quiet reflection after a turbulent, cathartic, and often painful journey, never overstated and fading delicately into a soft aftermath instead of unleashing the explosives. A perfect end to a near perfect-work.

Lost In The Dream is a doesn't grab your attention and sweeps you along for the ride; it draws you in, further into the inner world of Adam Granduciel on each listen. He hasn't done this all on his own of course, and the 'band' play to their strengths throughout and new boy Patrick Berkery is supreme with the sticks. But the songwriting and song-craft is every bit as strong as the new standard we now expect from The War On Drugs and ultimately Adam Granduciel has opened his heart, poured out his soul, and made another brilliant album.
-- CS

No comments: