Reviews

On I Don’t Live Here Anymore, The War on Drugs Grapple with Control & Find Renewal

I can’t recall
What I believe in
I’m always changing
Love overflowing

So says Adam Granduciel on “Living Proof,” the first single and opening track off The War on Drugs’ fifth studio album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, out today on Atlantic Records.

These lines, and “Living Proof” in general, act as a paragon for the entirety of the album. Slow, somber, and never quite reaching its crescendo, “Living Proof” describes an uneasiness settling into the world, and Granduciel not knowing his place within it. Every which way he turns—be it inward toward some personal tribulation or outward at the world swirling around him—things are changing. Familiarity has faded, and the onset of age feels less like wisdom and more like a displacement. Still, though Granduciel acknowledges his confusion with the way things are, he sings with something more eternal—acceptance.

In some ways, you could say the same thing about The War on Drugs as a group. The band seems to persevere, embodying a squarely American sound rooted in classic, folksy rock, sounding much more like Bob Dylan in the ‘60s than any other band making music today. Today’s rock, indie, and alternative music has morphed, absorbing the many influences and sounds of its time—a far cry from The War on Drugs’ fairly consistent style. Although experimentation persists, The War on Drugs continues to occupy a curiously unique space in today’s music industry; that is, a band playing undiluted rock and roll with staggering self-awareness and clarity.

Following up to 2017’s Grammy award-winning album A Deeper Understanding, it’s safe to say that I Don’t Live Here Anymore has been a long time coming. Aside from the band’s 2020 live album LIVE DRUGS, they’ve been quiet for the better part of four years, leaving fans to question and wonder what would come next after winning a Grammy. Since then, Granduciel became a new father and turned 42-years-old, with his songwriting reflecting a new glimmer of hope and maturity by necessity. 

Whereas Understanding may very well be the band’s magnum opus, I Don’t Live Here Anymore ditches the sprawling sound and grandeur of Understanding, opting for something more upbeat, underlined by hope. In terms of consistency, Anymore feels like a continuation of where Understanding left off. Granduciel’s contemplative lyrics are still there, switching between familiar topics like control and feeling lost; but this time around, he’s seen life “from the other side,” and learns that the occasional rain comes and goes, but the moments in-between are where peace is realized.

“Harmonia’s Dream” is the second song off Anymore, softly bubbling with psychedelic strumming, a change of pace from “Living Proof.” A clear anthemic standout, “Harmonia’s Dream” finds Granduciel stumbling on his journey toward an elusive something. What exactly that something is isn’t clear. Maybe it’s an unshakeable pursuit of purpose, or a desire to understand oneself fully and intimately. Either way, the prospect of attaining it feels like a dream, and Granduciel finds himself moving forward to go back.

As the name implies, “Change” finds Granduciel again grappling with a feeling that he’s out of place. He questions the space he occupies in a world that no longer looks recognizable to him. At the same time, he’s looking back, misremembering how things were and returning to specific moments. He eases forward cautiously, trying to resist a fear that’s creeping in.

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

“I Don’t Wanna Wait” is perhaps the most experimental song the band has released in recent memory. It sounds borderline pop-ish, dotted with high-pitched guitar solos, organs, saxophones and percussion. While the band has never fully leaned into arena rock, this might be the closest to it the band has ever come.

The titular song “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” is the group’s only song to date featuring additional artists, with Brooklyn-based indie group Lucius lending vocal support. It’s a gorgeous song, flowing with electric guitar and smashing drums. Curiously, Granduciel has always been viewed as the sole mastermind behind The War on Drugs, a frontrunner with an exacting vision for many of the band’s songs. But with I Don’t Live Here Anymore, Granduciel rediscovered joy in the act of collaborating, spending long nights with his bandmates in New York City and Los Angeles to finish the album.

“Sometimes, you have to just get away from the predetermined roles that each member plays in the live setting,” Granduciel says. “It just reminded me of all the things I love about making music—collaborating with my friends and letting everybody shine.”

Later on the album comes “Old Skin,” a melodic ballad that builds into a restrained sort of triumph and renewal. Here, Granduciel again sings about topics relating to control and change, but instead opts to “suffer through the change” with those he surrounds himself with. Channeling his inner Dylan, Granduciel sings about being “born in a pyramid by an old interstate” with poise and reflection. Midway through the song, drums swell and Granduciel lends several beautiful verses, creating some of the most uplifting moments on the entire album.

Next comes “Wasted,” a song that sounds similar to Bruce Springsteen in his heyday, while simultaneously resembling older songs from A Deeper Understanding, particularly “Nothing to Find” and “In Chains.” “Wasted” sounds like pleading from Granduciel; there’s hints of exasperation and frustration, not wanting to necessarily be found, but hoping to feel a little less unlost.

What follows is “Rings Around My Father’s Eyes,” recalling the album’s opener “Living Proof” with its gentle instrumentals and weary vocals that persist across the entire song. And finally, the album concludes with “Occasional Rain,” an honest ode to loneliness and fulfillment. The storms inevitably emerge, but if we weather through it, we can come out somehow better than we were before. Granduciel shoulders these hardships and ultimately concedes to what life has to offer him, opting to go at his own pace rather than force what cannot be found.

As Granduciel says on “Old Skin” – I ain’t sure of nothin’ babe, til I can feel it in my heart. Granduciel is a man with soulful discontent, someone searching for a cause or purpose that’s just out of reach. But deep down, Granduciel seems to understand that no matter how much he demands the answers, it’s acceptance that will satisfy his longing.

Instrumentally, the album doesn’t stray too far from the band’s roots, at least in terms of introducing new sounds. Pianos, electric and acoustic guitars, harmonicas, drums and 808s spill across the entire album, artfully crafted together with astonishing precision. Some songs – like “I Don’t Wanna Wait” and “Victim” take a small step into new territory, but I Don’t Live Here Anymore is by and large a standard War on Drugs album.

While I Don’t Live Here Anymore doesn’t live up to the bold originality and monumental highs of its predecessor, the album is exceptional in its own right. It’s lighter, tighter and only slightly more relaxed than any of the band’s album before it, but still feels epic compared to most other rock outputs today. There are several moments that captivate, with full-bodied guitar solos and longing verses that are sure to move the listener. I Don’t Live Here Anymore was well worth the wait, an album that drives forward toward fulfillment in spite of forces that might try to bring you down.

Listen to I Don’t Live Here Anymore on your preferred streaming service now.

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