It’s not easy to come up with more than a handful of artists that came out of what little commercially viable rock music the 80s had to offer that still get air time today. They were some of the darkest days for consistently reliable songwriters such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan while Paul Simon was busy popularizing African rhythms and Tom Petty struggled to find new material. The decade produced a dearth of Americana, and The War On Drugs have once again capitalized on this.
Lost In The Dream, the Philly quartet’s third full-length, is a tribute to the freewheeling expanses of America’s distant landscapes stretched to their extremes through a variety of shared experiences. It’s a reflection of the stories that surface when a handful of tireless old friends tour for months on end, treading the path they’ve chosen with well-worn soles for nothing other than the devotion to their trade. It’s a union between longtime engineer Jeff Zeigler and principal songwriter Adam Granduciel whose result is a ten track outing branded with the Philly native’s perfectionist watermark as the two seamlessly weave bar room piano, pedal steel, and seasoned vocals with enough drifting effects to fill whatever space comes between.
Suave and rollicking, the wavering resonance of Granduciel’s vocals on tracks like “Disappearing” are instilled with such humble confidence that they make an album worthy of arena resonance seem like it was made for listening in close company around the coffee table or on the open road. While the lengthy and visceral “Suffering” exposes Granduciel’s vulnerability through a haze of lazy licks, its bookend, “An Ocean In Between The Waves,” rolls on for seven minutes like a young Bruce Springsteen that had surfaced from a cloud of smoke rather than a construction site. Lost In The Dream is a consistent flux between introspection and celebrations of freedom as cuts like “Eyes To The Wind” and the rollicking “Red Eyes” give testament to Granduciel’s perfectionist ethos and Springsteen’s heretofore inimitable downcast blue collar persona sure to connect long-haul truckers with road tripping college students and bleary eyed touring bands.
While Lost In The Dream is sure to once again garner comparisons to other freewheeling Americana stereotypes like Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, it would be more effective (and accurate) to direct said comparisons to the short-lived rock supergroup the two were a part of: The Traveling Wilburys. Throw a Beatle, the leader of ELO, and the a singer initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by the Boss himself into the mix and you’ve got unparalleled commercialism, but late 80s FM radio left the quintet without much room to let their hair down. The War On Drugs is what the Wilburys would have sounded like if the supergroup had left the PG ratings to James Taylor and instead written with the dramatic and introspective fervour we all know they were capable of. Thankfully, Granduciel and co. were born to run with this opportunity. They have continued to do so for the past six years, and, if this outing is any indication, will continue to for at least as many more.