It is undeniable that in 2021, music has been irrevocably fractured by short-form media saturating the attention economy. This rupture has manifested itself in the widespread shortening of music into bite-sized snippets and the dissemination of digital instrumentation that sets off the frazzled synapses of our TikTok-addled brains. Given the prominence of this mode of music consumption, the unabashed grandiosity of The War on Drugs’ latest LP I Don’t Live Here Anymore feels distinctive and revelatory. Unfortunately, that’s also where the record’s unique attributes stop.
Much of The War on Drugs’ catalog is tinged with a Springsteen-esque Americana. Frontman Adam Granduciel has repeatedly cited Bob Dylan as an enduring influence on the band’s sound as well. The fact that the groups’ musical inspirations can linearly be traced back to these paragons of American folk-rock is not necessarily always a detriment, but in the case of the band’s latest record, renders its sound derivative.
While the classic folk-rock origins are relatively innocuous, and occasionally welcome — The War on Drugs’ sound intermittently careens into Lumineers-adjacent, stomp rock cringe territory. I Don’t Live Here Anymore comes as the groups’ first release since 2016, and instead of covering any new ground, seeks to scale up.
Where the record stumbles is in its lack of substance to anchor it to any emotional core despite its repeated vapid attempts to do so: “I surrender, baby, help me understand/ I’ve given everything when I had to give/ Maybe I’m a victim of my own desire/ I can’t change it, yeah,” Granduciel sings on the oh-so-subtly named track “Victim.”
Overall, the effect is one of cheap maximalism buoyed only by stellar production and an exceptionally sparse smattering of pathos. Every track on the album staggers at its inflated runtimes, as several exceed the six-minute mark — a wholly unnecessary creative choice. Granduciel’s lyrics also feel weighty, though not necessarily in a good way.
Often trite or overly dramatic, the writing on the record never feels memorable. Instead, the lyrics seem to function only as a vehicle for the incongruously polished instrumentation, which is at its best on the more ambient tracks such as “I Don’t Want to Wait.”
Where the lyrics abound in glib superficiality, they lack specificity, which undermines their ability to replicate the emotiveness of the greats who have inspired the group. Much of the lyrical material concerns itself with some mysteriously ill-defined challenge or uphill battle that Granduciel must traverse. This is especially evident on the track “Change,” in which lyrical cogency is briefly glimpsed, sculpting a world in a state of flux and constant romantic peril: “I’ve been running from the white light/ To try and get to you” he sings on the opening verse.
“Old Skin” comes a bit of momentary respite from the deluge of bad writing on the record, offering up some thematic clarity. Granduciel is keenly aware of the sense of scale evoked by the album and dials back some of its ostentation: “I was born in a pyramid/ By an old interstate/ Been down at the yard, working my whole life/ To follow my father’s dream.” One of the more lyrically coherent tracks off the LP, “Old Skin” is also firmly situated within a broader context, even shedding a light on things like the elusivity of the American dream — albeit a rather dim one.
The laid-back, roll-your-car-windows-down guitars and gravelly, earthy timbre of Granduciel’s voice are some of the few redeeming qualities of the LP, but still fail to balance out the stunning mediocrity of the lyrics. Unlike Dylan — who, perhaps somewhat ironically, is namechecked on the title track — I Don’t Live Here Anymore bears only a skin-deep resemblance to canonical Americana folk-rock records, with the fragments that anchor it to something more meaningful few and far between.