THE WAR ON DRUGS
A Deeper Understanding (Warner)
The pity of it is that I really like A Deeper Understanding.
It’s such an attractive record just to let pass across your ears. Its sounds, whether organic, electronic, rhythmic or, especially, vocal, are thick and smooth and meant to caress.
Even in the - rare for this record - briskly propulsive Holding On, a song made for travel (or domestic chores actually - trust me), the rhythm section operates as an S-class chassis, with not a bump to be felt on even the most ordinary roads, the steering from the guitar is finger-touch and intuitive, and you just sit back and let yourself be taken somewhere.
Those sounds are not slick exactly, though flaws are hard to find in its surfaces, as slick might suggest something which pulls away from warmth and flesh. And A Deeper Understanding sounds so warm.
But if you were to put this on for someone who hasn’t liked a new record since the glory days of deep mastering and attention to something more than sharp sounds for earbuds and tinny devices (a period also known as the 1970s), she or he would whisper “come home to mama”.
Chief War On Drugs man, and producer, Adam Granduciel, who now mostly sounds like a cross between Don Henley and a less roughened version of 21st century Bob Dylan, puts a shimmy on the outer edges of Nothing To Find that lightens its central note of weariness.
He sets a shuffle beneath Thinking Of A Place that means its otherwise static, looking-at-the-moon melody doesn’t have to wait for the shooting star solo to give the impression of progress.
And when Pain comes across as a modern spin on The Year Of The Cat if Al Stewart had grown up in Kentucky and eventually joined My Morning Jacket, and Clean Living seems to float above you like a husky meditation, you can but admire his ability to be touching and yet not quite solid.
Gorgeous stuff really. Sounds ideal doesn’t it? And in many ways it is: if you’re not awash in love by the end of You Don’t Have To Go you have a hard heart (and, by the by, shouldn’t listen to anything Dylan has done in the past ten years).
So why the pity? Because I’ve become greedy.
After Lost In The Dream I’ve come to expect War On Drugs to be transcendent: for its guitars to take me somewhere higher, for its melodies to take me somewhere deeper, for its dreamscapes to engulf me and for its songs-in-place-of-drugs to reshape me.
A Deeper Understanding does a lot, and does it beautifully, but it doesn’t do that. Yes, that’s my issue, but I would have liked War On Drugs to have taken that choice from me.