I’ve never really overtly connected the sound of The War on Drugs with Dylan or Springsteen, but with this, their fifth album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, I can finally join the dots. Opener ‘Living Proof’ oozes Dylan with its gentle acoustic, folk intro. The lyrics on this track mirror bandleader Adam Granduciel’s role as now father to two-year-old Bruce (yep, named after the man himself) - “I will protect, I’ll keep improving, taking me home / I’m always changing, love overflowing.”
The opening tempo and chords for ‘Harmonia’s Dream’ could be a musical twin to ‘Under The Pressure’ from the 2014 breakthrough album, Lost In The Dream. The song’s origin is a dedication to the Krautrock super-group with the same name. Robbie Bennett’s new-wave synths hammer this home at the tune’s mid-point.
‘Change’ has the explosive nature and intensity of the likes of the brilliant ‘Pain’ from their previous album, A Deeper Understanding. Difficult to know if the changes that Granduciel refers to here are from a very personal viewpoint (there has been some tabloid speculation that his relationship with Krysten Ritter is at an end) or something more abstract. In any case, there is something profoundly fatalistic in his writing craft here - “maybe I was born too late for this lonely, freedom fight / maybe I was born in the wrong way, maybe born on the wrong day.”
The highly synthesised ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ sounds tortured, almost as if Granduciel is drowning in the opening verse, potentially expressing the frenzy of a new and potentially dangerous relationship - “I’m bloody, but I’m yours / Am I breaking you down, over nothing?”
‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ is deserving of the title track. The first few bars immediately feel like a huge, sonic adventure, with pop-folk group Lucius singing backing vocals. Although a departure by Granduciel to explicitly collaborate, vocally, it seems to work. Lyrically, it tussles with re-birth, loneliness and destiny - “I’m gonna make it to the place I need to go / I need a chance to be reborn / Is life just dying in slow motion / We’re all just walking through this darkness on our own.” The lyrics are slightly at odds with the uplifting, anthemic and gospel-driven chorus.
The choruses within ‘Old Skin’ have the soul of a Springsteen classic with a Neil Young style harmonica break. Getting back to Dylan, there are a number of connections across the LP, the most obvious being ‘Rings Around My Father’s Eyes.’ It also contains some of the most poignant and beautiful lyrics about loss and the passing of time - “Into darkness, I will reach, fall into the ocean deep / There’s a bridge connecting me / light up above the morning sea.” In fact, with the nature of the rock-based War on Drugs sound, I can hear Jakob Dylan and his band, The Wallflowers echoing through, even more so than his father.
It feels like a fork in the road for Granduciel on this album, with major change afoot. Despite the clear signs of pain & upheaval with song titles such as ‘Wasted’, ‘Victim’ and ‘Change’, the LP is not without anthemic moments of optimism and hope. It is fitting that the album closes on a track such as ‘Occasional Rain’ with the realisation that periods of joy are always interspersed with sadness - an inescapable truth, and Granduciel has never shied away from speaking and singing this truth. For sure, the brilliance of LaMarca & Granduciel’s heavenly guitar riffs and Dave Hartley’s flawless bass line are very present.
However, I Don’t Live Here Anymore may lack some of the same punch, verve and grandiose sound of its predecessors. But, the last two albums were always going to be a tough act to follow, and you can’t help wondering if it will be Granduciel’s final act in this particular musical story. Hopefully not.