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The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

February 11, 2018

I am a big fan of The War On Drugs’ 2014 album Lost in the Dream. That album was a big success critically and brought the band to a wider audience. When its follow-up, A Deeper Understanding came out late in the summer 2017, it sounded like Lost in the Dream – The Sequel. I dismissed it. At year-end, A Deeper Understanding kept appearing on “best of lists” so I gave it another listen. Still nothing, I figured they were just replaying the formula on their major label debut.

I was surfing the web recently, when I came across an article about the making of A Deeper Understanding. A big part of the article talked about the eleven minute song “Thinking Of A Place” from A Deeper Understanding.  That caught my attention and I listened to the song and I was hooked. Sometimes a whole album is too much to digest. When I wrote my post on Tidal, I used “Thinking Of A Place” as my reference music – I never tired of it through multiple A/B listens. It has to be a good song to survive twenty plays in a row.

I hear so many influences in this band: Dylan, Springsteen, Dire Straits, Neil Young, Grateful Dead, Daniel Lanois, My Morning Jacket, R.E.M and Tom Petty all come to mind.  This is a contemporary take on classic rock.

This is an album that should appeal to audiophiles because it is gorgeously arranged and engineered – lots of stereo separation and texture.

Ultimately, A Deeper Understanding is mellow 70s singer songwriter soft rock: Lindsay Buckingham’s version of Fleetwood Mac, post Blue era Joni, Jackson Browne, Dan Fogelberg, Paul McCartney, Mark Knopfler and Dylan at his rare pop moments. When soft rock is done well it can’t be beat. The War On Drugs is performing soft rock well.

What I like about The War On Drugs is that their music sounds great both quiet and loud. In classic Grammy fashion, A Deeper Understanding won Best Rock Album. Ironic for a somnolent album in the rock genre. This ain’t AC/DC.  Another thing I like, is that these guys know how to play big guitar AND keyboards/synthesizers.  I like that they mix 70s singer songwriter with 80s New Wave, current day jam bands and alternative rock, but in the end the 70s songwriter vibe always wins.  What I really like about The War On Drugs is that they are dreamy, yet epic. The kind of thing that Dire Straits, Springsteen, U2 and R.E.M. mastered in their prime.

This album is very similar to Lost in the Dream. However, it is noticeably better. The band’s success has allowed this recording focused band to invest in the business. Everything is more lavish. Fortunately the band has great taste. Lavish for these guys is elegance and not gaudiness.

I love when a band figures it out and adds a contribution to the popular music conversation. Most important when a band finds an audience.  For example, bands like Wilco are able to have prosperous careers – all because they have an audience. If The War On Drugs remains dedicated to their craft, they will have long and prosperous career. Prosperous means that they can provide for their family and fully embrace their muse.  In a hip hop pop dominated highway, The War On Drugs has found a sleepy byway to excel.

I am not going to go into a track-by-track commentary, instead I am hoping you will be infected by my enthusiasm for this LP.  If anything I have said so far resonates with you, give this album a listen. If you are not willing to invest an hour, try the 11 minute masterpiece “Thinking Of A Place.” Either way, you must listen on the best sound system you have access to – via the LP, CD or via a high resolution digital file/stream. A good sound system matters. If you don’t have one, find a friend who does.  If you can’t find a friend, visit your town’s locally owned HiFi store and ask them to play it on a system you could actually afford. You are going to like The War On Drugs.

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From → Music Reviews

5 Comments
  1. jprobichaud permalink

    I like these guys and they’re fantastic live but I haven’t quite “got” this album yet. Maybe a few more listens…

  2. Still on the outside looking in. Heard a few cuts and like them. Just a matter of giving them some solid time.
    Watched a PBS program called American Epic Sessions and thought you might dig it. Great music but the hook is they recorded it on an antique recording system. You might find it interesting and entertaining. CB did.

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