41f440f9It’s worth starting this review by quoting a fairly lengthy passage from the press release:

Lost In The Dream is the third album by The War on Drugs, but in some ways, it is the first album by the Philadelphia band The War on Drugs. Ahead of and after the release of the 2011 breakthrough Slave Ambient, Adam Granduciel spent the bulk of two years on the road, touring those dozen songs through progressively larger rock clubs, festival stages and TV slots. To his left, there was Dave Hartley, the same bassist who had played a bit on The War on Drugs’ 2008 début Wagonwheel Blues. And to his right sat pianist Robbie Bennett, a multi-instrumentalist who contributed to Slave Ambient whenever a part needed to be played. By force of experience, The War on Drugs became a bona fide rock ’n’ roll band”.

So the solo project The War on Drugs is dead, and long live The War on Drugs the collaborative rock ‘n’ roll band? I’m not so sure about that. That Slave Ambient was an absolute triumph is indisputable, but Granduciel has somewhat misinterpreted his success. Certainly, the anthemic ‘Baby Missiles’ spearheaded his rise, but it’s the two acoustic tracks that bookend Slave Ambient that form the ground on which he has planted his flag. ‘Best Night’ and especially ‘Black Water Falls’ simply stun, and they do so with a stripped down ethic that is entirely absent from Lost in the Dream, which is at times simply lost. Essentially, then, the addition of collaborative song writing partners, Robbie Bennett and Dave Hartley, dilute that distinct Granduciel-ness.

Album opener, ‘Under the Pressure’, encapsulates this perfectly. It’s a solid track that builds on a strong vocal performance from Granduciel, but Bennett’s pedestrian piano part is nearly fatally anticlimactic. It’s an odd misstep that is immediately corrected by the fist pumping, air punching single, ‘Red Eyes’, which is ‘Baby Missiles’ squared, a synth rock epic anthem. The moment that Granduciel howls into the chorus is the album’s climax – it falls hard into the gorgeous ‘Suffering’, a portrait of a relationship that is all but over. Here, especially, the interplay between Granduciel and Bennett succeed as their disparate parts cascade into each other.

Next, ‘An Ocean in Between the Waves’ has the same driving rhythm of many of the wonderful Slave Ambient tracks, and Granduciel enunciates like a latter day Bob Dylan as the track builds and builds into something like Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ – he is surely a master at this sort of thing.

‘Disappearing’ is an aimless, overproduced, pointless, self-indulgent, catastrophic loss of focus. I press play, go to the bar, come back a fair few minutes later and it’s still stuck in the same void. It is by far the worst thing I have heard by The War on Drugs, and it almost makes me want to press ‘stop’ and move onto something else. Which is a shame, because ‘Eyes to the Wind’ manages to shrug off ‘Disappearing’ in the same way as the track’s protagonist forces himself to look forward instead of backward – even if it does go a bit Dire Straits in the final quarter (though I’d like to point that I love ‘Romeo and Juliet’).

‘The Haunting Idle’ is another piece of ambient filler, a la ‘Original Slave’ form Slave Ambient, but following the flabby closing section from ‘Eyes to the Wind’ this is completely superfluous, where as ‘Original Slave fits into Slave Ambient’s ethic perfectly.

‘Burning’ is pure Springsteen, no bad thing, but ‘The Boss’ does it better of course. Perversely, title track ‘Lost in the Dream’ exhibits the kind of restraint lacking on the rest of the album. “Love is the key to the things that you seek”, he sings plaintively before heading into the cinematic closer ‘In Reverse’, a genuinely wonderful track that serves to undo some of the album’s principal mistakes. The line ,“I don’t mind disappearing, because I know you can be find”, appears as a fitting conclusion to the album.

Currently, there’s a growing trend for bands to pare their sound back to its core, as characterised by Vampire Weekend and Metronomy on opposite sides of the pond. Had The War on Drugs done this, made an album of ‘Black Water Falls’, this review would have proclaimed the second coming of Jesus. Unfortunately, they have taken the opposite route, plumbing for intricacy, overproduction and lavish overdubs over purity, all of which detract from the band’s best qualities. So we’re left with a mixed bag, one that thrills and frustrates in equal measure, and a band that seems determined to plunge into the kind of mediocre soft rock we haven’t seen for a few decades, but with the potential to do so much better than that. So like Robert Johnson, The War on Drugs stand at the cross roads. Let’s hope they sell their soul(s) to the devil.


Release Date 17/03/2014 (Secretly Canadian)

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Chris Gilliver

I started out writing for the Manchester Evening News as a freelance journalist back in 2008. The idea that I would be given free access to music and gigs seemed somehow miraculous to me, and I proceeded to take full advantage of the situation. When the M.E.N. decided to constrict its coverage to only the very biggest bands, Simon Poole approached me with a plan to make sure that all the very talented musicians of this world that pass through and/or live in Manchester would not go unnoticed. As the New Releases editor here at Silent Radio Towers, it remains my proud duty to cast a critical eye over the music and reviews that come my way in a manner that is both supportive and fair. Above all, I strive to write as entertainingly possible. Favourite musicians include the Pixies, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Mercury Rev, Os Mutantes, The Knife, Beach House etc etc. I'm a firm believer that all genres (except nu-metal) contain music of great quality...