War On Drugs

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Wagonwheel Blues (2008), 6.5/10
Future Weather (2010), 6.5/10 (mini)
Slave Ambient (2011), 7/10
Lost in the Dream (2014), 6.5/10
A Deeper Understanding (2017), 6/10
I Don't Live Here Anymore (2021), 5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

The War On Drugs, from Philadelphia, were the project of singer-songwriters Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile. They delivered solid if trivial Bob Dylan-inspired and Tom Petty-inspired elegiac folk-rock under the influence of Arcade Fire on Wagonwheel Blues (Secretly Canadian, 2008), such as Arms Like Boulders, with the notable exceptions of the celestial A Needle in Your Eye #16 and the ten-minute Show Me the Coast

The mini-album Future Weather (Secretly Canadian, 2010), recorded without Vile, plunged into even gloomier territory with the pounding Bruce Springsteen-ian rockabilly rush of Baby Missiles (possibly Granduciel's best song yet), the Dylan-tinged country ballad Brothers and Comin' Through.

Other than merely reprising the best songs from the previous mini-album, Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian, 2011) mostly invested on improving the audio experience, pushing the envelop with the textural quasi-shoegazing sound of Blackwater, while decorating with loose guitar, piano and harmonica jamming the tender country-rock of I Was There. A desolate philosophical tone fuels the dreamy, Byrds-ian Best Night and the thundering keyboard-laced lament Come to the City. But then the stratospheric electronic rockabilly Your Love Is Calling My Name (sounding like a folk bard's remix of Deep Purple and ZZ Top) gives the whole show a new ferocious meaning.

Perhaps influenced by the commercial success of the synth-pop revival of the 2010s, Adam Granduciel went for the dancefloor on Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian, 2014). The opener, Under the Pressure, aims plainly for the dance club, despite semi-spoken Bob Dylan-ian vocals. The more atmospheric and catchy Red Eyes (and possibly catchiest of his career) harks back to Billy Idol and crosses his industrial beat and robotic delivery with Bruce Springsteen-ian pathos. The album is weighted down by songs that test one's patience: the endless litany Suffering; the pop-soul electronic ballad Disappearing (ghastly visions of a resurrection of Yazoo or of the 100th Depeche Mode album); the tedious elegy Lost in the Dream; the pensive closer In Reverse that makes even Cat Stevens look like a philosopher; or An Ocean in Between the Waves, that sounds like U2 at their most moronic fueled by a robotic techno beat and an elastic bassline, all wrapped up in romantic synth drones. It is also embarrassing how derivative songs such as Eyes to the Wind (an impeccable imitation of Tom Petty's folk-rock) and Burning (which almost plagiarizes Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark) are. This band is building a career how of photocopying those three generations of bards (Dylan, Springsteen, Petty). Anybody who thought that roots-rock of the USA was terribly provincial was just served a major proof. On the upside, there is certainly elegance and competence in the way trance-inducing pseudo-psychedelic guitar effects add a layer of meaning to simple songs, and there is certainly a great hidden contribution by pianist Robbie Bennett (Granduciel's Al Kooper?), and more intelligent use of the synthesizer. And there are certainly some great refrains (mainly Red Eyes).

A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic, 2017) boasts seven songs passing the six-minute mark, all wrapped in sleek electronic arrangements and propulsive sequencers. The upbeat opener, Up All Night, sets the standard of lingering melodies and thundering drums. The existential folk-rock rigmarole (and standout) Holding On sounds like Tom Petty remixed by New Order. The second best Petty imitation is more complex: In Chains soars in the middle of dense dark piano and organ patterns. The romantic eleven-minute laid-back country elegy Thinking of a Place sounds like Bob Dylan backed by the Eagles with Neil Young guesting for the roaring guitar solo. Nothing to Find another electronic version of Bruce Springsteen's anthemic rock'n'roll (and a close cousin of their own An Ocean in Between the Waves). Unfortunately, the slow atmospheric ballads (Strangest Thing, Clean Living, Knocked Down and You Don't Have to Go) don't live up to the pathos of the faster songs.

I Don't Live Here Anymore (2021) had the same number of songs but the overall length was half that of its predecessor. Unfortunately the inspiration was largely inferior. The first half ranges from mediocre (the mawkish ballad I Don't Live Here Anymore) to just awful (I Don't Wanna Wait). Electric Light Orchestra and latter-day Roxy Music are the ancestral models of their emotional pop ballads, and Old Skin even evokes Bon Jovi. Harmonia's Dream sounds like a synth-pop version of Tom Petty's She's so Bad. The exuberant Wasted (the Red Eyes du jour) could be a Britpop hit of the 1990s, except for the jangling guitar. Victim employs a similar kind of electronic motorik rhythm but doesn't have an equally catchy hook. The album closes with Occasional Rain, one of his best Bob Dylan-ian imitations, more effective that the rest with a simpler arrangement. It could have been a four-song EP with just Wasted, Harmonia's Dream, Occasional Rain and maybe Old Skin.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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