28 August 2017

The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding

I have been anticipating this one for a while!  The War on Drugs have finally followed up on Lost on the Dream (our review linked here), an album that I like but it was not without flaws.  When it comes to Dream Rock, they are always a band who are at the forefront of my mind.  This can largely be attributed to the song "Red Eyes", which has grown into one of my favourite songs of all time, something that I blame my old radio presenting friend Barry Wilson for.  This song is one of the reasons for me following them, hoping that it is not just a one off.  A Deeper Understanding was released on August 25th, 2017 to much acclaim, but there is still some negative reviews out there as well.  Well, it is time to find out how it sounds myself......

01 - Up All Night

"Up All Night" sounds like the stage of night when dusk is starting to descend and the lights are being turned on to illuminate the dark.  It has a feeling that the potential is there for excitement, love and other things.  The song simmers along with a promise that it does not quite reach, it is constant audio titillation and then it sorts of dissipates into nothing.  For a six-minute song, it says a lot and then it fails to reach the highs that it was promising.

02 - Pain

The song that gives the album its title, "Pain" is the sound of the night coming back to haunt the protagonist.  There is a heartland rock feeling to this one, a feeling that it is born of a pedigree that has transcended the usual style of TWoD, as if they are hitting a level of song writing.  This is not trying to emulate the past, but it is hinting at something new for the future.

03 - Holding On

"Holding On" is the second single to be released from this album, this one is an upbeat number musically and it has a lot of positive energy throughout the song.  To be honest with you, it feels as if it is trying to recreate the sound that gave the world "Red Eyes" on Lost in the Dream.  This is not the worst thing in the world, but the familiar feeling before you have finished your first listen is something that haunts this song.  That said, if you are going to attempt to recreate one of your old songs, might as well make it your best one.

04 - Strangest Thing

Slowing things down, "Strangest Thing" is a song about how the world is a hard place, how a new direction is required to escape the limbo of existence.  It starts off at a plodding pace and I was in fear that I was going to fall asleep.  But then the chorus hook kicks in around the two minutes forty second point, at this point I almost had an accident.  The build from that point is nothing short of dramatic, full of beautiful passages and heart-breaking moments of tender contemplation.  When a song can make that sort of instant connection, it transcends everything else that has come before it and this is one of those moments for TWoD.  It is a beautifully crafted number, one which requires patience and gives some much in return.

05 - Knocked Down

Now this is a strange song, one that shares a few similarities to the Minnie Riperton classic "Loving You".  Once more we are in ballad territory on "Knocked Down", but to be honest with you, after the drama of "Strangest Thing" it is a bit of a let-down.  It plods along with all the excitement of a rainy Tuesday afternoon in a closed seaside town in October, it is easily the poorest song on offer here and it does not improve with further listens.

06 - Nothing to Find

As if sensing that an injection of energy is required, "Nothing to Find" comes along like a ball of fun with a jaunty little beat that gives the world a warm glow.  It is as if sunshine has returned to the album, making everything seem exciting and full of possibilities.  It is a fun track, a little filler that does not try to be anything be a good song.  You need numbers like this sometimes, just a fun tune that makes the world feel better for a little while.

07 - Thinking of a Place

Returning to their reflective side, "Thinking of a Place" is an eleven-minute track which looks at the need for companionship and for solace.  This was released as a single of Record Store day 2017, so it has been given much hype and it has been built up by so many reviews.  It is hard for this song to live up to the hype that surrounded it, but it is an interesting song, one that sounds like a dream sequence love song, giving people hope of a brighter future.

08 - In Chains

With a Dream Rock riff that would sound perfect on any summer's day, "In Chains" follows a similar pattern to other songs on this album.  The song is another love song, one that looks at the chains that we can place on ourselves.  I love the music here, but it does go on a little too long.  It could have been edited down slightly and been the little gem that it is now, this is a sadly familiar pattern on this album.

09 - Clean Living

We are approaching the end with "Clean Living", which starts with an atmospheric, almost religious sound to the sound.  It speaks to the Celt in me, making me think of the nature and it is very smoothing.  The lyrics do not quite match the power of the music, they seem to be singing to a different song in some ways.  But the music is so captivating, it takes you on a journey and it is a vein of sound I hope they explore in the future.

10 - You Don't Have to Go
Ending the album is the slow waltz that is "You Don't Have to Go", which has a melancholic malaise that feels as if the party left you a while ago and you are tidying up the tables.  It is a heartbreaker from the beginning, one that builds up slowly and you feel as if it is going to give you a euphoric release.  It almost delivers, it almost reaches that lofty goal and you will notice the word "Almost".  The problem here is it could have been done just as effectively with less time and the payoff is not the euphoric moment that should have sent this album on its way.  It is a shame it ends on a decent note, when it could have been so much more.

A Deeper Understanding is a good album that does not know when to stop, which sadly keeps it from being a great album.  Each song (including the ones I adore) could have lost a minute or so each and the album would have had the same impact, which is proven by the band themselves when they released an edited down version of "Holding On" that sounded just as good as the original full-length song.  However, this album is like a dream that aims for lofty heights.  I can hear the influences of Bruce Springsteen and Mark Knopfler on this album, it has big, massive ideas and it is trying to wrestle them into a form that pleases both the artist and the audience.  Much like Lost in the Dream, it is an album that has flaws which stop it from reaching the next level.  I still have faith in The War on Drugs, they still sound amazing and it is always so close to greatness.  It is a good album overall, I applaud the fact that they have the faith to attempt this record, but it could have done with a little bit of editing.

7 out of ten - This is good and worth checking out

Top track - Strangest Thing

You can purchase A Deeper Understanding on Amazon here.

You can visit The War on Drugs website here.

You can follow the activities of The War on Drugs on Facebook here.

You can stream A Deeper Understanding on Spotify here.

You can stream A Deeper Understanding on Deezer here.

You can stream A Deeper Understanding on Tidal here.

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