After five albums, it appears that Philadelphia’s The War On Drugs have finally refined and perfected their sound. Ever since the release of their debut album Wagonwheel Blues, Adam Granduciel’s band have always mixed classic rock tropes with some more droney, shoegazing elements.
As the years have gone by, it’s the classic rock that’s come to the fore, and on I Don’t Live Here Anymore, Granduciel has gone full-on Bob Dylan/Bruce Springsteen. Although it still sounds very much like War On Drugs, it seems somehow tighter, more focused, and less self-indulgent than previous. Perhaps most surprisingly, there’s barely any sign of Granduciels’ trademark yelp of “WOOO!”.
Opening track Living Proof is something of an outlier, a gently strummed acoustic ballad full of introspection. It’s a song full of yearning for something in the past, something that can never be recaptured (“They’re building at my block…maybe I’ve been gone too long, I can’t go back” runs one key line).
After that, we’re on more familiar territory, with a succession of songs that you can imagine being turned up loud while cruising down a highway. The shadow of Dylan hangs heavy over I Don’t Live Here Anymore, whether it be the sometimes uncanny phrasing in Granduciel’s voice, or just a straight name-drop in the title track: “When we went to see Bob Dylan, and we danced to Desolation Row”.
As well as Dylan, there are several other legendary figures paid homage to: there are shades of Tom Petty in Change, and there are plenty of nods to Tunnel Of Love-era Springsteen, especially in the weary brooding nature of Old Skin. There’s even a moment at the start of I Don’t Wanna Wait which threatens to turn into Phil Collins‘ In The Air Tonight.
While this is as expertly crafted and played as you’d expect from a War On Drugs album, it’s almost a bit too perfect at times. While it’s good driving music, or nice to listen to in the background, there’s never any sense that any boundaries are being broken. Which is fine of course – not every record has to be a revolutionary one – but sometimes you do yearn for a bit of grit amongst the FM radio smoothness.
Having said that, I Don’t Live Here Anymore does contain some of Granduciel’s best work – the title track is one of the best songs he’s written for ages, an instantly addictive mid-paced rocker featuring Lucius‘ Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig – when their vocals suddenly appear to blend in with Granduciel’s, it’s the sonic equivalent of an air punch.
Victims is another highlight, with its relentless, driving beats mixing with Granduciel’s squealing guitar solos, and Rings Around My Father’s Eyes is an affecting ballad about fatherhood; Granduciel’s first child was born two years ago, named – what else? – Bruce.
It may take a few listens for this album’s charms to fully reveal itself, and some may find the apeing of classic rock greats a bit wearying, but overall, I Don’t Live Here Anymore is a solid addition to The War On Drugs canon, and the full-on embrace of heartland rock means they may well find a whole new audience with this album.