A picture of Adam Granduciel from behind, sitting at his piano with his head turned, staring at the camera just as if it surprised him inside his studio, maybe while trying to find the right chords for one of A Deeper Understanding’s tracks. A black Fender lays on the floor, you can still hear the echo of the amp left on. The view looks a bit blurred, maybe because of cigarette smoke or maybe because it’s just an old shot.
This is the picture introducing A Deeper Understanding, The War On Drugs‘ sixth work, finally out on August 25th, three years after their major success Lost In The Dream, released by Atlantic—it’s their first album on a major label.
Right from the first note, A Deeper Understanding sounds familiar to anyone who appreciated Lost In The Dream; even at the very beginning: the reverberating intro to the first track “Up All Night” directly reminds one of the opener “Under The Pressure”, and so it comes with the melodic lines, the stripped-back, still-catching drum rhythms and perfectly matching bass, the piercing guitar echoing Granduciel’s voice.
That The War On Drugs’ leader has always had a weakness for Bob Dylan, especially from the day he “went electric” was probably already assumed, but now it is crystal clear just from hearing his voice, and it becomes explicit in quotes like: “Well my eyes, they begin to fade” likely referring to “One Too Many Mornings,” from Dylan’s 1964 album The Times They Are a Changin’ or “Like a rolling stone / Don’t roll again” appearing on Strangest Thing.
Actually, ‘70’s and ‘80’s sounds from the “great rock ‘n’ roll times” are never lacking when it comes to The War On Drugs: from Bob Dylan to Tom Petty, from Neil Young to Bruce Springsteen they have a solid background, but what makes you never turn up your nose is the fact that, whether you like it or not, with A Deeper Understanding they have built their own timbre, which you’d likely recognize just from the very first notes. This is what makes of The War On Drugs another “out of time” band and consequently a great one comparable to Fleet Foxes for its distinctiveness and independence from the commercial music industry’s trends.
In this context, A Deeper Understanding is not very far from his older brother Lost In The Dream, on the contrary it really looks like its natural follow-up, improving Granduciel’s “deeper understanding” after getting “lost in the dream”. The point actually is: if you are a The War On Drugs fan, and you found their highest moment in Lost In The Dream then you’ll find yourself struggling to find any real growth; I mean they seem to be kind of resting on their laurels, fortunately without making it worse as it may happen in this cases.
However, unlike what you might expect, while A Deeper Understanding doesn’t give all the missing answers, its new consciousness and authenticity found especially in tracks like “Pain”, “Strangest Thing” and “Nothing To Find” seem to suggest that for Granduciel and The War On Drugs the destination is not as important as the journey. And after all we really don’t mind.