The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

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Beautiful, exploratory, shimmering classic rock from a meticulous artist.

Great music doesn’t always have to be groundbreaking. While The War On Drugs’ fourth album A Deeper Understanding doesn’t offer anything all that new in a musical or emotional sense, it remains a fascinating and beautiful piece of music.

The two most striking things about the record on first listen are its length - most of its ten songs are over six minutes long - and its general sonic aesthetic.

This album sounds pristine. The playing is brilliant, but every sound is immaculate; shimmering pianos, gently jangling guitars and a cornucopia of warm synths are all employed with great taste.

What makes it even stronger is the way in which he injects such beautiful songs with real emotion. He’s not the most profound lyricist, but he relays his feelings of sadness and anxiety in an intriguing fashion, never telling the full story up front, allowing for deeper dissection should his fans want to learn more.

It’s the way in which all the pieces fit together that makes A Deeper Understanding so brilliant. The warm, propulsive opener ‘Up All Night’ is made all the more interesting by a harsh, noisy guitar solo midway through. The way the glorious 11 minute centrepiece ‘Thinking Of A Place’ chugs along, occasionally picking up steam only to gently settle down over and over again, sounds completely natural.

The album’s shortest song, ‘Knocked Down’, is its catchiest too. Though catchy isn’t exactly the best word to use when talking about this kind of music. There are melodic moments that might stick with you, but A Deeper Understanding is more about a general mood that unfolds across its duration than the appeal of anything bitesized.

It already sounds classic. It already sounds timeless. And not necessarily because he’s shamelessly aping what we’ve come to know as ‘classic rock’ (though the comparisons to Springsteen, Dire Straits, Dylan, Petty et al are justified), it’s because he’s constructing beautiful rock songs and packing them with relatable emotion.

That’s not to say the record will be universally acclaimed. Granduciel’s nasal, Dylanesque croon isn’t for everyone and has long been a deal-breaker for some. Many take issue with how heavily he wears his influences on his sleeve. And its sheer length may serve as a barrier to some.

But those who can live with that can be assured that this is a work of great beauty. An ambitious undertaking from an artist who has high standards and is meeting them with poise.