Album Review: The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (2017 LP)

The War on DrugsAdam Granduciel has a lot to live up to with latest album, A Deeper Understanding. 2014’s Lost in the Dream received high, widespread acclaim – our review even called it a masterpiece – which means this album is given the unlucky task of upholding or exceeding the hype.

A Deeper Understanding opens with “Up All Night”, which starts with a  familiar tapping sound. It then develops into a quick drumbeat, accompanied by keys and a gradual layering of instruments as the song progresses. The vocals are consistent, only Granduciel’s voice can be heard, but each instrument goes on its own little adventure and has a solo throughout. It’s a long opener, going for just over six minutes. By the end, only vocals, keys, and drums are left, just as the song started.

“Pain” takes it down a notch, but still features layered arrangements and instrumentation throughout the song. The guitar echoes the back up vocal line, while the bass and drums move together. It’s a slow song, the lyrics don’t say much, apart from “Am I moving back in time or just standing still,” and it feels like a filler track.

The lyrics, and in fact, Granduciel‘s vocals in general aren’t the biggest feature or focus of this album. The instrumentation and arrangements eclipse what he is singing on nearly every track. While the same instruments are used, the combinations change on each, which helps an otherwise subdued-sounding album remain interesting.

The number of slower ballads, that don’t say much, makes the album lag. All songs except one are longer than 5:30, with one even lasting 11 minutes. It’s a tough album to listen to from start to finish, as the longer tracks don’t give a lot of reason to keep listening, and the order of the tracks is inconsistent. Having a slow track, then fast, then slow, doesn’t help with continuity or momentum as you listen. The density of the instrumentation and the arrangements definitely adds to this and makes the songs feel slower than they are.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable listen, but not an album that had the same power of Lost in the Dream. While I’m sure Granduciel did not intend for the two to be compared, it’s nearly impossible not to given its popularity and impact. Perhaps if I hadn’t fallen so hard for Lost in the Dream, I would have enjoyed this album more than I did. A Deeper Understanding boasts solid arrangements and production, but is lacking passion and emotion in Granduciel’s vocal delivery.

Review Score: 7.6 out of 10.

A Deeper Understanding is out now.