Artist: The War on Drugs
Title: A Deeper Understanding
Genre: Heartland Rock/Americana/Neo-Psychedelia
Release Date: August 25, 2017
Length: 66 min.
Producer: Adam Granduciel
Personnel: Adam Granduciel (Lead Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Drums, Harmonica, Keyboards, Mellotron, Organs, Percussion, Pianos, Synthesizer, Vibraphone), David Hartley (Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Backing Vocals), Robbie Bennett (Keyboards, Bass, Pianos, Organs, Percussion, Backing Vocals), Charlie Hall (Drums, Electric Guitar, Percussion, Vibraphone, Backing Vocals), Jon Natchez (Saxophone), and Anthony LaMarca (Guitars, Drums, Backing Vocals)
Additional Personnel: Patrick Berkery (Drums, Percussion), Michael Bloch (Guitars), Meg Duffy (Slide Guitar), Paloma Gil (Backing Vocals), Max Hart (Keyboards, Pedal Steel Guitar, Synthesizer), Otto Hauser (Drums, Percussion), Louise Hayat-Camard (Backing Vocals), Darren Jessee (Drums, Percussion), Michael Johnson (Synthesizer), Josh Kauffman (Electric Guitar, Percussion, Backing Vocals), Holly Laessig (Backing Vocals), Sterling Laws (Drums, Percussion), Carter Tanton (Acoustic Guitar), and Jess Wolfe (Backing Vocals)
The War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding is an album I feel conflicted about. On one hand, Adam Granduciel, along with the guys he has working with him, is an artistic, creative, talented guy when it comes to composition, singing, instrumentalism, and putting together music. The way he is able to bring all his instruments and vocals together to create appealing mixes that wash over you and catch you up in their flow really impresses me. It also impresses me that his music feels like a combination of the heartland rock of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, the folk rock of Bob Dylan and Neil Young, and certain periods of David Bowie. I should love this music! And when the first single that I heard came out, “Holding On,” I did love it. But then the album came out.
At first, listening to this record, I was getting the experience I thought I wanted. Then, I started getting kind of bored by it. Everything was just as creative, and artistic as I said before, but, honestly, as the songs went by, I began to realize that a lot of the compositions and instrumentation are overindulgent, even if the music is meticulously structured and machine-like in its near-perfection.
Also, the lyrics, though occasionally good, on a whole aren’t very memorable and don’t come anywhere close to measuring up to the talent level of the rest of the music. The way the lyrics are worded, phrased, and set to the music is wonderful, and Adam sings them well. Yet, I wasn’t left really thinking about any of the lyrics once the album ended, nothing was left bouncing around in my brain. If you’re going to do this sort of music, no matter the precision of your musicality, you need good lyrics, just like those folks I mentioned, War on Drugs’ influences, had in spades. You need something to take away, and there isn’t much of that in A Deeper Understanding.
Not only this, but also I found that a lot of the music itself begins to run together too early into the track listing, to the point where I had trouble remembering which song was which.
In these regards, I have to give this album a lower grade than I wish. A Deeper Understanding has been nominated for a Grammy, and it deserves the nomination. I’m not trying to say it doesn’t. The instrumental and production work alone will wow you. Yet this album could have been much, much better if Adam and the guys had approached it with slightly more restraint, added better lyrics, and injected a bit more variety.
My favorite tracks are “Holding On,” “Strangest Thing,” “Thinking of a Place,” and “Clean Living.” “Holding On” and “Strangest Thing” are the best examples of the best A Deeper Understanding has to offer, and “Thinking of a Place,” though the longest track at eleven minutes, is the best put together, and I like its country touches.
I’m going to give The War on Drugs’ A Deeper Understanding a 69%.