Photo Credit: Shawn Brackbill
Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs return with I Don’t Live Here Anymore, their first new studio album in four years. With their last offering, they already set the bar pretty high for themselves simply by titling it A Deeper Understanding. The album became their first Top 10 release in the US, meaning that expectations are even higher this time around.
For the most part, I Don’t Live Here Anymore meets or even exceeds the potential that The War on Drugs has shown this far. Throughout the album, the band in general sort of resembles a more-polished Bob Dylan, particularly in regards to Adam Granduciel’s lead vocals. The album makes a slow, almost cautious entrance with the opening track “Living Proof”, which starts with just acoustic guitar and piano (ironically, the first lyric is “Banging on a drum… “). However, the beat kicks in gradually by the end of the song, effectively setting the pace for the rest of the album.
The melancholy tone of Granduciel’s voice and lyrics do stick around for the second cut, “Harmonia’s Dream”, but with the band’s trademark drum sound now in full swing, there’s officially no turning back. The band even gets a bit jangle-y with “Change”, where the arpeggiated guitar riff resembles that of “There She Goes”, the alternative would-be classic by British band The La’s from 1988.
The ’80s definitely play a major role in the sound of much of I Don’t Live Here Anymore, despite that era’s historical reputation for in-your-face music production which one might imagine to clash with The War on Drugs’ more subtle approach. Still, “I Don’t Wanna Wait” opens with an unmistakably ’80s drum machine beat and synth, and could easily be a track from Dire Straits classic 1985 Brothers in Arms (from another mother). The title track is another synth-heavy offering with a riff that takes Quarterflash’s 1983 hit “Take Me to Heart” to heart.
“I Don’t Live Here Anymore” is in fact clearly intended to be the album’s climax. Though a few of the lyrics inch a bit close to cliché (“Beating like a heart // I’m gonna walk through every doorway, I can’t stop”), but the song differentiates itself from anything else on the album once background vocals by New York City band Lucius kick in. They may outwardly seem out of place, but this turns out to be exactly the monkey wrench which the track – and the album – proves to need.
Not to mention that the song name-drops Bob Dylan, making this one of the first major Dylan-esque songs to mention the man himself since Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones.” Despite all this, Dylan is not the sole influence on the album: the ballad “Rings” will probably remind listeners of both classic Allman Brothers and Beck’s mellow 2002 album Sea Change. The late coming track “Wasted” is not quite as good, but the final cut “Occasional Rain” proves to be a strong, worthy curtain-closer. For any fans of mellow but heartfelt loud/quiet adult rock, I Don’t Want Live Here Anymore will no doubt live in their playlists this winter and beyond.