Record of the Week: The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Try this, you’ll like it. Words which will get you into all manner of trouble in every walk of life, except when you’re a child and your parents are talking about a new flavour of ice cream.

Don’t believe cousins on that subject though. Those buggers put stuff like tabasco sauce or hot chilli sauce in the most innocuous of flavourings to create a burning ice cream monster from hell in your throat.

Those words were uttered to me with The War on Drugs latest album, A Deeper Understanding. I’ve never listened to any of their records before and yet this album felt very familiar. It’s old slippers, put through the wash with some fabric conditioner and hung out on the line to dry in sunlight.

Fresh, new, but you know it well.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you want something on in the background without paying any particular attention to what you’re listening. Ladies and gentlemen, do you want your classic rock progged or your prog rock given a makeover by Bruce Hornsby and the Range?

The album kicks off with Up All Night and meanders for the next hour. Noodles with some atmospherics and echoes; all very pleasant and inoffensive but to be honest, not my cup of tea. It didn’t get any better.

Lengthy guitar solos always tended to warn me off records and by the very same on Pain, I’m wandering into the kitchen to do the washing up. Sparse and slow, Knocked Down is the album’s shortest track at four minutes.

The pace picks up with Holding On, where Vini Reilly’s guitar solos are layered on a Supertramp backing track.

And the critics love it. I know, I checked to make sure I wasn’t missing some kind of music industry in-joke but found the great and the good enthusing about A Deeper Understanding. Fair play.

To these ageing ears, it sounds like the kind of music punk rock rebelled against. And yet it is now lauded as a breakthrough and how music should be. I’ll say now, there’s craft and some pleasant melodies but with most of the tracks tumbling in at 5 – 7 minutes long, it’s a long album.

There’s an earnestness to the solos and layering, MOR enveloped in distorted keyboards, to bring a hint of shoegaze to proceedings on Strangest Things. But, inescapably, the conclusion is that Toto had a bit more ‘oomph’ to it.

But the inner-Springsteen is let loose on Nothing to Find and In Chains. It’s Bruce, post-Born in the USA, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Sit down, put your feet up; Thinking of a Place is an 11-minute noodle.

Finishing this opus is Clean Living and You Don’t Have to Go. Slower, siblings if you like, at which point I wondered if this isn’t the album to put on at the end of a hard day, to ease you into the great wide open of dreams.

I tried The War on Drugs and to be honest, though the mind is receptive to such notions, I won’t be rushing to delve into their back catalogue. While I’d give them 5/5 for musicianship, it’s 2/5 for the album as a whole.

Click on the link to buy A Deeper Understanding.

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