Philadelphia’s Adam Granduciel and the War on Drugs make open-road rock – stoned, gliding, warm and wide. Like Petty and Henley, but blurrier, zoned out and on the fringe.
Granduciel’s excellent latest effort finds him zoned in, though, with more attention paid to songwriting. Still expansive, but with less drift. It’s a step forward. What did Henley sing? Don’t look back. You can never look back.
The early reviews for Lost in the Dream are in and they are awfully positive – “best yet” and that kind of thing. In interviews, Granduciel has said he wanted to get away from his image as a smoke-ringed “soundscape artist.” He’s getting there, but the first track here sounds much like what we’ve heard before from him. Under the Pressure has that familiar shimmering-fog feel and a Dylan drawl, though the baritone sax is new.
But then comes Red Eyes, like a flock of ’80s synth-rock. And the drums are upbeat and insistent. This is new, a jolt. “We won’t get lost inside it all,” sings Granduciel, a noodler who has been prone to do just that. “I’m on my way.”
The tempo is lowered on Suffering, but it’s more song-orientated than Granduciel’s previous jamming grooves. From him: “And I hear it’s killing your ghost, means I can be bigger than the tones.”
Bigger than the tones, absolutely. But let’s talk about those ghosts. Suffering, for example, calls to mind Lennon’s Mind Games or the Stones’ Fool to Cry. Elsewhere I hear Knopfler and Springsteen; the latter of which, like Granduciel, does his dancing in the dark.
Eyes to the Wind is marked by a grand piano and pedal-steel seriousness. It’s dark, but I can clearly make out Seger. He, too, lived to run and ran to live.
Lyrically, Granduciel lives at night (despair) and shoots for the dawn (love). It’s a common artists’ theme. On the peaceful, folk-rocking title track: “Love’s the key to the things that you see … it’s a key in the dark for the spark.”
And roads. Granduciel piles up the mileage, on byways mostly. Like Henley, he’s got that top pulled down and that radio on, bay-bee.
The album concludes with In Reverse, an oceanside settling and the end of the road. It’s ambient and existential – all about the grand parade and making paths. Granduciel suffered from anxiety (“as I struggle with myself right now”) during the making of this record. There’s hope in the gloom, though – time to turn it around and start again. It’s not light yet, but it’s getting there.
The War on Drugs plays Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern (April 14) and Lee’s Palace (April 15).