There’s something so charming about the phrase “dad rock”, not least for its un-cooling of sacred cows like Steely Dan, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen as air guitar fodder for white dads who reminisce about the days when bands were bands, man.
It’s that nostalgic lilt that tars Pennsylvanian band The War On Drugs with the same brush, albeit a more modern take on the classic dad figure. This is a band that loves the heartland slant of Springsteen (singer Adam Granduciel’s son is named Bruce), channels Dylan’s vocal inflection to the point of imitation, and yet manages to do the impossible and transcend the impersonation to achieve something genuinely special. Since being formed in 2005 by Granduciel and Kurt Vile (who left the band shortly after the release of their first album in 2008), they’ve barely put a foot wrong. Their sequence of albums shows a band improving with every release, earning them a Best Rock Album Grammy in 2017 for their fourth record, A Deeper Understanding.
I Don’t Live Here Anymore, the band’s fifth studio record, continues to mine greatness from this well; lustrous synths envelop soaring guitars, drums keep time like their lives depend on it, and Granduciel is as elegiac as ever – a master of penning the saddest lyrics you’ll ever hear belted out in a stadium. But there’s a hint of change in the air; songs build towards tight pop choruses, cutting back on the luscious ambling that made tracks like 2014’s Under The Pressure (upwards of eight minutes passing by in a flash) so alluring. There are more vocal harmonies, the lyrics are direct, and there’s a newfound sense of restraint that, for the most part, is illuminating.
A simply strummed acoustic guitar on Living Proof conjures the coffee house folk of Granduciel’s heroes as he laments the changing face of his city – “I went down to my corner, they’ve been building up my block” – the lure of a mournful, glittering guitar solo eventually winning out, the band never too far out of reach.
The title track recruits Brooklyn four-piece Lucius in its anthemic chorus that will make good value of even the cheapest seats. Harmonia’s Dream blends their signature propulsive synths and audacious guitars, while I Don’t Wanna Wait, funnily enough, asks for patience through its slow-burning, vocoded, 80s-fever-dream opening. But when those drums arrive, hard and heavy, they signal something great to come.
I Don’t Live Here Anymore is a turning point for The War On Drugs towards a more structured sound. While you’d miss the indulgence of the odd 10-minute track, these tighter tunes will have even the weariest of legs upstanding.