What I Listened To When I Listened To Music This Week – The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

The War On Drugs dates back to the day of Richard Nixon, and relates to a series of legislations put in place globally by the American Government to combat illegal drug use. Nixon coined the term back in 1971, when he launched an assault on “public enemy number one” drug abuse. The US currently spends over $51 billion annually on campaigns as far reaching as prohibition of drugs, military intervention and military aid to prevent the increase in illegal drug use. They no longer refer to it as The War On Drugs, but governmental policy has changed very little since the 1970’s.

I think we can safely say this was not a war that could ever be won. Indeed the Global Commission on Drug Policy as recently as 2011 noted as much,

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world. Fifty years after the initiation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and years after President Nixon launched the US government’s war on drugs, fundamental reforms in national and global drug control policies are urgently needed.”

Surprisingly enough this didn’t go down to well with the anti-legalisation brigade, however now is surely the time for us to talk about it? To stop crimanalising drug addicts and start educating and helping people with their problems rather than telling them what they should and shouldn’t do. By taking a more liberal, free thinking approach we can stop living under the rule of conservative scare mongering and start shaping a system that actually could work.

Here endeth by thought/rant for the day. What’s in a band name eh?

THE WAR ON DRUGS – LOST IN THE DREAM

The two key influences on The War On Drugs main man Adam Granduciel have always loomed large over his music. His voice not so much sounds like Bob Dylan, but someone attempting to do an impression of Bob Dylan. The vocal inflections are unmistakeably Dylanish, a man who taught himself to sing along to Blood On The Tracks and never quite grew out of it. It’s not entirely a criticism, Adam’s voice is still a powerful weapon, and he’s unquestionably a good singer but there will be people out there who just can’t quite get over how strong the influence is. It is something that without a major change in direction the band will never escape.

The second looming influence of Bruce Springsteen is one too that Granduciel seems unable to shake. Throughout the bands work, the aura of 80s-era Boss is verging on omnipresent. Again it’s not a criticism per se, you can go a long way sounding like Springsteen, just look at the success Bruce Springsteen’s had doing it!

Here on Lost In The Dream, the bands third full length album, there is a growing sense of a songwriter stepping out of the shadow of his influences and becoming more than just the sum of his parts, or at least trying to. Take opening track Under The Pressure, starting with a harsh, rapid, metallic click, in complete contrast to the meandering reverb heavy guitar line acting as it’s counter point, it’s a jarring start for a band usually so heavily drenched in melody. As the clicking slows to a steady beat, it’s joined by the propulsive drum beat which goes on to be a vital feature of the album as a whole, the clicks and drums meld beautifully to form a wonderfully rhythmic sound bed. Echoing piano lines create a melody as his comfortably down-beat vocal crackles into life. It’s one of the most thrilling starts to an album you’ll hear this year. The song is nearly nine minutes long, but nothing here feels over done, nothing out stays it’s welcome. Throughout it ebbs and flows, subtly going in and out of sections, never loosing track of where it was or where it’s going. Even the outro, a hazy, looped, droning thing with an electronic buzz is perfectly judged, even if it does sound more like the end of a live set than the start of an album.

The single Red Eyes follows, upon it’s release it seemed to instantly take The War On Drugs to a new level of success. Creating hype is an art form, and one they seem to have mastered. It’s certainly an obvious single. It’s full of rapid energetic drums, that as every reviewer seems to jump at the chance to declare has a motorik pattern to it. The chorus, not something TWOD always feel the need to throw at a song, is beautiful and certainly very catchy. It’s again propelled along by piano melodies paired here with a strummed acoustic. Beautifully wicked guitar riff’s dip in and out almost at will, giving the whole track a wonderful sense of freedom. The break down in the middle, a trick they repeat on a number of tracks on the album, is fantastic. The pounding drums and wobbling synths and saxophone, coupled with the vocals almost buried in the mix, create a wonderful break before it all comes back together, bristling with a new found energy and purpose it’s superb.

The album is sadly somewhat front loaded. Indeed following those two thrilling numbers, we instantly get another one of the albums highlights. The whistful ballad Suffering is heavy in Americana references, at times recalling Wilco and Neil Young, but also a piano sound that’s oddly reminiscent of Think Tank era-Blur. The whole track is propelled along by a slowly meandering electric guitar, how anything electronic can sound so heartbroken and human is really something, indeed the playing throughout the album is fantastic, Granduciel’s fluid style is perfectly fitted to the style of music he creates, and it’s easy to see why Kurt Vile rates him so highly as a guitarist. There’s a new found openness to his lyrics here too, whilst on previous records his lyrics were often not the easiest to untangle and find any meaning in, lines like “why be here when we’re both going to fake it anyway” and “will you be here suffering, well I hope to be” are stunning portrayals of a man hanging onto a broken relationship, indeed the album as a whole plays as a break-up record, but never wallows in itself.

Sadly from here on in, the album fades, not to the point where there’s no joy to be had in the remaining tracks but a wave of inconsistency permeates the rest of Lost In The Dream. An Ocean In Between The Waves starts promisingly enough but soon descends into something resembling the sound track of an 80s action film. Indeed as he sings “I’m in my finest hour, can I be be more than just a fool” you can picture him jumping from his chair, running to his car and driving as fast as he can to save some fair maiden from the clutches of some, no doubt balding, villain. One too many guitar solos wail though and as the whole thing lasts over seven minutes, it goes from a light hearted interlude to a trudge that’s a lot less fun for the listener that it would appear to be for the band (it would be a heck of a lot of fun to play though)

Elsewhere the likes of Disappearing and the title track are nice enough, the former full of pulses of synth and sounding incredibly like it’s from 1985, the latter a sort of sun drenched Americana number where Granduciel truly channels his inner Dylan, but neither has anything memorable or particularly exciting about them that lifts them to anything special. As for Burning it’s just a straight parody of Bruce Springsteen, it could be Flight Of The Concords if it wasn’t played so straight, even the lyrics are all about fire and things you can do in the dark, it’s a fairly painful pastiche rather than a fitting tribute.

There are still highlights dotted around throughout though, Eyes To The Wind starts of like a classic country song, but as the acoustic starts to really strum, builds into something rather wonderful. The closing track In Reverse too has plenty to like about it. It possesses a beautiful chorus melody, and starts life stunningly via a slow build up based around a throbbing bass line that explodes to life through the introduction of a twanging electric guitar and drum beat. It all add’s a wonderful brightness to a fairly perfect closing track.

So where does it all leave us? To be honest it’s familiar ground, a band with huge potential, writing some truly brilliant tracks and some ones that are truly forgettable. It’s lifted above the level of previous album Slave Ambient by the wonderful production, which makes it a entirely pleasant listen, however it still frustrates as much as it pleases. Good enough to keep you going back to try the next record they release, but still short of giving you anything to really love.

Lost In The Dream is out now on Secretly Canadian. The War On Drugs tour Europe in May including dates in London (Koko 27th) & Manchester (Academy 2, 28th)

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