The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding | Album Review
Alternative rock darlings The War on Drugs return with their highly-anticipated fourth studio album, A Deeper Understanding. Overall, it’s respectable.
In 2014, The War on Drugs had critics and fans alike going gaga. Why? They released their third album, Lost in the Dream, to universal acclaim. Yes, Lost in the Dream topped year-end critics lists everywhere. Because of the hype behind album number three, album number four, A Deeper Understanding, arrives chocked-full of hype and high expectations. Does it live up to them? Overall, it’s highly respectable, but imperfect.
“Up All Night”
A Deeper Understanding has numerous pros. For the most part, the first six songs are on-point. “Up All Night” is a superb opener, yielding lovely music, fantastic production work, poetic lyrics, and top-notch vocals from Adam Granduciel. This serves as the tone setter. “Pain” follows, begins lushly, showcasing its pain lyrically, as opposed to bluntly. Granduciel sings expressively, showcasing his radiant tone and allowing the lyrics to roll right off his tongue.
Keeping the momentum kicking is promo single “Holding On,” a tour de force. The production work continues to shine, particularly when a bright, rhythmically-driven, enthusiastic sound materializes. Thematically, Granduciel depicts the push and pull of love, distressed over the state of the relationship, with questions and emotions haunting him. He wonders if he’s “held on” to the past for too long. “Strangest Thing” caps off the pre-release singles eventfully and radiantly. It commences beautifully, exhibiting control and poise initially. Eventually, it grows lusher, more expansive, showcasing amplified intensity.
Beyond the singles, “Knocked Down” packs a punch, clocking in at a tight four minutes. It’s slow, but irresistible musically and lyrically. Follow-up “Nothing to Find” rightfully accelerates the tempo, adding some excitement to A Deeper Understanding. It’s not the crème de la crème of the album, but definitely respectable.
Beyond the songs, general pros include the ambience created by The War on Drugs. The sounds always shine, including guitars, keyboards, and synths. There’s a hypnotizing effect that’s undeniable throughout the course of A Deeper Understanding. Also, for the most part, the vocals are commanding and the lyrics poetic. Still, there are some cons.
“Thinking of a Place”
Among the cons of the album is excessive length. While A Deeper Understanding only comprises of 10 songs, nine of those songs exceed the five-minute mark. Seven exceed the six-minute mark. While part of the reasoning is to allow the music/instrumentalists to shine in addition to the lyrics, at times, the band doesn’t do enough to justify extensive length.
As a whole, the album runs 66 minutes, a rarity these days. The biggest offender in regards to length is seventh song, “Thinking of a Place,” which runs north of 11 minutes. In order for an 11-minute song to be effective, it needs to be nearly perfect – flawless in execution. While “Thinking of a Place” has its fair share of moments, there’s simply not enough of them to justify its excessive length. Given the pros about the song itself, ‘less is more’ would’ve made it more effective. With three more songs following it, ‘psychologically,’ it takes away from the quality of A Deeper Understanding. “In Chains,” “Clean Living,” and “You Don’t Have to Go” aren’t bad, but perhaps The War on Drugs expect too much of an attention span from the listener.
Other cons are more general as opposed to specific. At times throughout A Deeper Understanding, the music (and songs) slip into the background. It isn’t that The War on Drugs aren’t being dynamic or fail to deliver respectable music. Simply, it’s just that the same hypnotic quality that’s a pro can also be a con. Sometimes, there’s a lack of a truly innovative spark. To sum it up, at times, the deeper understanding is more of the same understanding.
All in all, The War on Drugs have a solid, enjoyable album on their hands with A Deeper Understanding. The pros – the music, poetic lyrics, and the vocals – far outweigh the cons. There are cons, mostly overindulgence and sometimes, a lack of innovative spirit beyond the band’s comfort zone. All said and done, A Deeper Understanding is winning.