Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is the definition of resiliency. Growing in Atlantic City, I grew up in the shadows of the big city. Before my time, bootleggers would send booze to the coast for not only America’s Playground but also to be shuttled up the Black Horse Pike and into the city.
All I have ever known is rooting for Philadelphia sports teams and having friends and family play host to its citizens with second homes at the shore.
Philly is a proud city and is also honored for its self-hatred, which most from the outside don’t understand comes from a place of self-love.
Given the circumstances of the past year and going with the pandemic, calling Philadelphians or anyone still standing resilient, could be the underused adjective of the century.
The War on Drugs has been just as solid since the band’s beginnings in 2005 in the City of Brotherly Love. The group has persevered with frontman Adam Granduciel since its beginnings which included an early partnership with singer-songwriter Kurt Vile on its debut album.
The band, consisting of Granduciel as its lead guitarist and singer, bassist David Hartley, keyboardist Robbie Bennett, drummer Charlie Hall, saxophonist Jon Natchezand and guitarist Anthony LaMarca, sounds tighter than ever on its fifth album “I Don’t Live Here Anymore,” Oct. 29, 2021 on Atlantic Records.
The follow-up to the band’s 2018 album, “A Deeper Understanding,” which received a Grammy award for best rock album, is absolutely the band’s best album and one of my favorite records of the year.
It opens with the acoustic “Living Proof,” a progressive piano and poetic introduction. It’s dramatic and builds tension with each line and layer of instrumentation that is carefully stacked until reaching the climactic chorus: “I’m always changing. Love overflowing. But I’m rising. And yeah I’m damaged.” The song then fades into a distorted guitar solo marking the true beginning of the album.
The track sets up the theme for the album – the idea that things are different but the same. It’s that same feeling that you get after returning home after being gone for a while. I felt that way when I came back to Atlantic City, New Jersey after spending four years in Buffalo, New York.
The indie rockers hit their groove on “Harmonia’s Dream.” It captures that feeling of moving forward in spite of uncertainty. It also has the delicious sound of the 90s rock music that I loved like Nada Surf.
The 80s drum machine and keyboard tones on “I Don’t Wanna Wait,” remind me of a lot of the music I grew up hearing – like Genesis. I also love the fuzzy guitar and the breakdown after the bridge, it gives me the feel of a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song, which was another staple in my parents’ car.
Those tones carry through on “Victim,” which has the super catchy hook, “Baby, I’m the victim of my own desire.”
The title track featuring Lucius is one of my favorites. It has upbeat synths and 80s rhythms with plenty of space for the guitars to shine. The lyrics are among some of the best on the album – it captures that travelogue style through the verses and on the chorus it has that early 90s pop vibe that still has songs by Cher and Wilson Phillips in my head.
It even has a reference to going to a Bob Dylan concert so it wins for me. However the pithy line from the chorus, which is what the song and album are taken from, solidifies the feeling of the album: “But I don’t live here anymore, but I got no place to go.”
It also has an example of the poetry that Granduciel recites throughout the album.
“Time surrounds me like an ocean
My memories like waves
Is life just dying in slow motion?
I’m getting stronger every day.”
The lyrics have that deep Dylan quality throughout the album, but sounds the most like the Nobel laureate on “Old Skin,” which also has a nice harmonica part.
The band channels a Springsteen-by-way-of-The-Gaslight-Anthem feeling on another of the best tracks on the album – “Wasted.” The keyboard and guitar sweeps explodes with that freewheeling sound that gains momentum with each passing chorus.
Granduciel picks up on those Dylan vibes on “Rings Around My Father’s Eyes,” which not only has the poetry but the sound of the great songwriter.
“Occasion Rain” is just a fitting closer as “Living Proof” is a great introduction. You can tell the band put a lot of time into the track placement to make “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” a steller album that feels complete after 52 minutes and 16 seconds.
I feel like Granduciel is winking with that Dylan-eye when he sings “Don’t let ’em stone you when the comedown starts.”
The 10 tracks on “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” are among the band’s best in its extensive catalogue. It’s got depth as well as catchy songs that capture the band’s energy and emotion in a way that can only challenge the and to continue its path of greatness.
I Don’t Wanna Wait
I Don’t Live Here Anymore
Rings Around My Father’s Eyes