Culture

Reaction Music Corner: The War on Drugs’ new record and Colter Wall Live

BY Hudson Roe   /  29 August 2017

The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding 

Rated: 9.5 

At the centre of The War on Drugs’ sixth album is an eleven minute and fourteen second epic, titled “Thinking Of A Place”.  Eleven minutes is a long time for a track. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is just under six minutes long. “Stairway To Heaven” comes in at eight. But when you do get to “Thinking Of A Place”, you don’t think of it as long. Considered, maybe. But it’s not long. It’s an example of the attention to their craft.  

“Thinking of a Place” is perhaps the best way to introduce yourself to a band which enjoys taking its time. On their last record, the critically feted, Lost In The Dream, every track bar one ran to over four minutes, with three over seven minutes. As with that record, this is to be lived with and grow comfortable with.  

In an interview that Adam Granduciel gave to Kansas City radio station The Bridge, The War on Drugs front man talks about the process of making the album. Recorded over 16 months, it allowed for plenty of opportunity to re-record and play around with tracks.  It has paid off handsomely.  The album is lush, generating wonderful landscapes over which Granduciel’s voice hovers. 

The record’s feel is comparable to the slower and mid-tempo tracks on Springsteen albums Darkness On The Edge of Town or Nebraska. On some tracks, Granduciel’s voice sounds eerily like Dylan’s (when it was in good nick). Pitchfork have termed it Heartland Synth Rock, which just about covers it. What the album doesn’t do is give in to grandiosity; it doesn’t reach for the button marked ‘stadium rock’. 

Rather than focussing on the experience of blue-collar Americans as with The Boss, Granduciel’s lyrics are more introspective – clearly built around his own insecurities and heartaches. The album’s lyrics appear to focus on a break-up. It’s not a new theme, but the tracks are so well crafted as to lend them a greater emotional kick. On “Holding On”, Granduciel sings, “Now I’m headed down a different road, Can we walk it side by side?, Is an old memory just another way of saying goodbye?” That final line, ending with ‘goodbye’, leading to the chorus, epitomises the punch that the album can have.  

A Deeper Understanding has no new tricks, it doesn’t blend genres or have unnecessary gimmicks. This is not an album that will be lauded for having re-invented rock. Instead, it is one of the best rock albums to have come out of the US in recent years. An album that is well crafted, has heart and is endlessly repeatable. It’s an album to sit back and enjoy.  

Track Pick: Holding On 

Colter Wall – Live at The Lexington, London (22 August, 2017) 

On record, Colter Wall’s voice sounds like rolling thunder.  It never breaks, but it rumbles. Partly down to the way it is recorded, singing very close to the microphone.  Live, Wall doesn’t sound the same, but it’s not to say his voice doesn’t still have extraordinary weight and power.  

The 22-year-old Canadian country artist started his set with a story which led to him writing “Thirteen Silver Dollars”, which opens his phenomenal self-titled album.  The track includes a reference to “Blue Yodel #9”, the blues/country classic written by Jimmie Rodgers. Both tracks are about being picked up by the police. In Wall’s case, that means the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  It’s one of many stories that Wall tells between tracks, building a relationship with the packed audience on the first floor of the Islington pub.  

The set was impeccable. A particular highlight being his closing rendition of Lead Belly’s track “Goodnight Irene”. Comparisons with Johnny Cash are inevitable, they both have wonderful baritone voices. In fact, Cash’s cover of Good Night Irene is as good as hearing Wall do it live. Of Wall’s own album, the tale of jealousy and murder, “Kate McCannon” just edged it.    

Towards the end of his set, Wall covered Blaze Foley’s “Oval Room”, a protest track about Ronald Reagan. Wall explained that he doesn’t like to get political, but made an exception for the current US administration. The Austin Chronicle explains how the track is an anti-Trump anthem, written thirty-three years too early. It proved a favourite with the audience. 

Listen to Colter’s latest album, Colter Wall, on Spotify