A messy album is one where tracks seem haphazardly chucked at a wall, with mismatched production styles devoid of cohesiveness. The War on Drugs don’t do this on I Don’t Live Here Anymore. Instead, they’ve inadvertently created such a harmonious record that their songs bleed too calmly into the other. You’re kind of left thinking, “Oh, wait I thought this was the same song.” It’s a good record. It just sounds like a 52-minute long song.
That definitely comes across as too harsh, especially for someone who really likes their lead single. So let’s break it down. The title track ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore,’ much like the rest of the record, left me scrunching up my face trying to understand why I felt so nostalgic for this music I was clearly hearing for the very first time.
This isn’t me saying they ripped anyone off, their inspirations are obvious. Those sweet opening 80s synths raise my blood sugar level in the best way. It turned me into Molly Ringwald, perched on high school steps as the end credits to my cheesy rom-com loomed over the screen. (Pretty in Pink or The Breakfast Club, you take your pick). Listening to it, you’re reminiscent of a time in space you can’t vividly put your finger on.
When you’re not spawning into the 80s listening to this record, you’re met with crisp Bob Dylan-inspired vocals and melodies that get you yearning anyhow. Adam Granduciel has a beckoning call to his voice, and when it’s met with strikingly soft guitar riffs like on ‘Living Proof,’ you tell yourself you simply cannot be the person that dislikes such an innocuous, easy-going record. But maybe that’s precisely the point—do The War on Drugs just play it too safe?
‘Harmonia’s Dream’ tugs at me, and I want to give her the attention she deserves but my mind is so busy getting distracted by literally anything else. And herein lies a newfound appreciation: this is a walk-in-the-park record! A do-my-silly-little-tasks-while-this-plays-in-the-background type of album. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a low-maintenance group of songs that give you the space to contemplate facets of yourself you want to work on. Self-reflection with a too sugary latte in one hand.
We are offered a break from introspection on my favorite track, ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait,’ starting off on psychedelia as well as calm experimental vocal effects. We slowly walk into raunchy, gritty guitar riffs that sound like the product of band members taking the piss out of pedals in the studio—and I actually mean this as a compliment. The bass on this song is absolutely phenomenal. But again, I wind up falling back into exasperation by the end-half of the album. (I do in fact find this record to be the personification of a modern melancholy Tom Petty in its weakest areas).
“Oh my God, where do I belong? Can I make it day-to-day?” The song ‘Old Skin’ starts slow but boomerangs. Suddenly I’m in a pickup truck racing down the freeway with my arm flailing out the window, fingers teasing the wind. And maybe that’s just the target audience here. Cigarette-stained men in flannel that drink beer too fast for it to get warm, promise they’re safe to drive, booming this track from old car speakers so everyone knows that hey, I’m a sensitive guy! But I’m not that guy. In fact, it’s an unfortunate thing to come to terms with; that my brain’s constant buzzing leaves me inept from enjoying such a peaceful song.
All in all, you need to be in a certain mood and headspace to take a liking to most of these songs. One that allows you the peace of mind to accept that this album can only be enjoyed to its fullest after a good cry on an empty highway sticking your head out the sunroof just so you can feel something. Granduciel rasps, “I don’t need to make you mine / I don’t need to compromise” on ‘Wasted’ and I know he’s asking me to feel my feelings but frankly, I’m deflecting.
My final verdict: for those with healthy coping mechanisms this is most definitely an 8/10 album. The War on Drugs offer you a place to escape. A comfy patted seat and pillow for you to lay your head. But for people in the corner refusing to acknowledge their existential feelings (which were suddenly magnified by Granduciel’s earthy tone of voice) I must say 7/10. This album wants you to face things you tend to run from but I am simply not mature enough.