Bringing grunge back successfully into the mainstream consciousness is no mean feat, but it is something that Drenge achieved with their critically-acclaimed and brutally uncompromising self-titled debut in 2013. The Derbyshire duo, made up of brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless, pulled no punches on their first effort, with its heavily distorted guitar riffs and violent imagery tapping into a new generation of unsatisfied teenagers.
However, as good as their debut was – they even attracted one of the oddest endorsements of all time from outgoing MP Tom Watson – Drenge have some catching up to do. Unfortunately for the brothers, during their time away another noisy duo – in the shape of the Mercury Prize-nominated Royal Blood – arrived on the scene and pretty much dominated 2014, securing the top spot in the UK Album Chart in the process.
Yet just like their indifferent reaction to Watson’s name check (Rory said the pair were “not totally overjoyed” that it happened), Drenge essentially shrugged off any suggestion that they were in competition with Royal Blood. And they were completely right to, as well, because their view that the Brighton pair’s sound is “too poppy” for them is only accentuated by their devilishly sinister second album, Undertow,
The basic principles of the two bands are largely similar – both comprise of just two performers and they make a lot of noise – but Royal Blood are simply a much easier fit for radio compared to Drenge. This is demonstrated by Running Wild, which opens their comeback album properly after a brief foreboding opener (suitably titled Introduction). It is a pummeling reminder of what the Loveless boys can do, with its meaty guitar riff absolutely bristling with intensity.
While the elements of what made their first album such a blast are still present on their second outing, there are some noticeable changes. Among them is the addition of a third member in Rob Graham, who plays bass on three songs and will join the brothers for their live outings. Additionally, Undertow was produced by Ross Orton, who helped co-produce Arctic Monkeys’ magnificent 2013 album AM. Both decisions have a positive impact on the end product.
It is not exactly polished, but there is even more purpose and depth to Drenge’s beefed up sound. Tracks such as lead single We Can Do What We Want, which features the most unashamedly infectious riff on the record, and Favourite Son see the band expand their sound into an almost punk-inspired territory, with a ferocious clarity. The addition of Graham is particularly welcome on The Snake, which has a touch of QOTSA about it, while Side By Side is a full-throttle example of Drenge at their visceral best.
Lyrically, the record continues the band’s fascination with physical imagery, with one of the standout moments provided by The Woods. “Burn my body by the banks of the Derwent/ and it wouldn’t mean anything at all/ nothing’s sacred, nothing’s special to you,” Eoin croons on the surprisingly catchy chorus, over a straightforward grooving hook that is completely intoxicating thanks to its stripped-back simplicity. It is still probably a bit dark to challenge Royal Blood for airplay, but it is easily as good as anything on Out Of The Black.
There is a slight misstep on penultimate track Standing In The Cold – which attempts to be grandiose and just ends up halting the record’s momentum – but closer Have You Forgotten My Name? ensures that Undertow finishes with a suitably uncomfortable sentiment (“Took a shower just to wash off the shame”). It is a powerful conclusion to a hugely impressive return from Drenge, who have once again produced a collection of songs that will leave you feeling dirty but, more importantly, completely satisfied.