Review Summary: The War on Drugs reborn and simplified, but basically just as good.I Don’t Live Here Anymore
is in many ways an album about transformation. In the time since we last heard Granduciel (2017’s A Deeper Understanding
), Adam became a father and endured the pandemic – two life-altering events. It’s no wonder then that his band’s fifth full-length LP sounds just a little bit different than what we’re used to hearing from the Philadelphia rock sextet. The lengthy psychedelic sections and winding guitar solos of the last two records are largely absent; in fact, Granduciel allegedly cut a thirty-two minute epic from the album’s final pressing. Whether that strikes you as good or bad news will likely inform your opinion of I Don’t Live Here Anymore
, which comes to us as a slimmer and sleeker incarnation of The War on Drugs. Everything here is more pronounced and tangible – choruses take hold in more obvious ways, and there’s an emphasis on cleaner, tighter, and more efficient
songwriting. It’s less “Lost in the Dream” and more “Found in the Now”. Thus, I Don’t Live Here Anymore
serves as something of a mission statement; but just like someone who’s picked their life by moving to a new city, they’re still the product of their past self. In this case, The War on Drugs maintain the signature sound that they’ve meticulously and painstakingly curated over the last decade-plus – that steady backbeat, the waves of synths and guitars, the Americana-inspired vocals – and they apply it to their most forthright batch of songs to date.
While I Don’t Live Here Anymore
largely scraps the longhand form that led us to career highlights like ‘Under the Pressure’ or ‘Thinking of a Place’, it also manages to surprise us in some brand new ways. The title track, for example, is quite unlike anything we’ve heard from The War on Drugs before. It’s a succinct and brilliantly infectious stadium-rocker, featuring backing vocals from the indie-pop outfit Lucius that fit like a warm glove while serving as the perfect complement to Granduciel’s lower register. It’s nearly impossible not to get sucked into the song’s groove, but lines like “Is life just dying in slow motion, or getting stronger every day?” only make it easier. Considering where The War on Drugs were on the heels of A Deeper Understanding
– stuck in a cycle of infinite refinement and formula-tweaking – it’s easy to see why the band took a song like ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ and decided to pursue an album’s worth of chasing that feeling. They strike gold again on ‘Victim’, a towering rocker with radiant piano flourishes and an unforgettable series of blistering riffs that together land the song among Granduciel’s best. ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ is an uncharacteristically brooding slow-burner with its slinking electronic backdrop, announcing early that the record won’t be just another thoughtful drive up the coast. Adam layers his vocals in a way I’m pretty sure he’s never done before on ‘Harmonia’s Dream’, lending each word a chiseled boldness and a crisp air of profundity. ‘Old Skin’ slowly gathers momentum until it culminates in a well-placed harmonica binge that helps differentiate it from similar folkish cuts in The War on Drugs’ catalog. All of these moments make I Don’t Live Here Anymore
well worth the cost of departure; this band has never been about re-inventing the wheel, but another album in the same vein as Lost in the Dream
and A Deeper Understanding
certainly would have trekked down the path of diminished returns. Even if I Don’t Live Here Anymore
simplifies the playbook, it at least introduces enough wrinkles into The War on Drugs’ carefully thought-out formula to once again spark genuine intrigue on a song-by-song basis.
A colleague of mine who reviewed this band’s previous two records referred to Lost in the Dream
as their spaghetti western and A Deeper Understanding
as their IMAX epic. In this analogy, those albums act as thoroughly enjoyable films that we eagerly re-watch even though we already know the ending. I Don’t Live Here Anymore
is sort of like watching a reboot of the series decades later. There’s a lot of comforting familiarity, and perhaps the special effects have been spruced-up, but ultimately it’s a fresh take on a tried-and-true piece. Like many reboots, I’m not convinced that I Don’t Live Here Anymore
ultimately lives up to its billing – but it’s a well-done product with enough differences to make it worthwhile for both new and old fans alike. Years from now I’m sure we’ll still be returning to Lost in the Dream
as The War on Drugs’ indelible classic, but that doesn’t mean that I Don’t Live Here Anymore
won’t possess its own well-deserved audience.