The Drums’ debut LP plays like an ‘80s time capsule. Unfortunately, the world only needs one Morrissey.
In many interviews over the last several months, the Drums’ lead singer Jonathan Pierce repeatedly stated that the band’s debut LP would consist of relatively “darker” songs and be more of a “winter album". These statements were presented as a comparison to the band’s debut EP, Summertime! (truth in advertising if it ever existed). So, here we are... it’s summertime again, and guess what? The Drums is melancholic, but not “dark” or “wintery” in the slightest. All things considered, it's another summer album.
Whether that is a good thing or bad thing is up to you, dear listener. Personally, the six crisp, ebullient tracks that comprised Summertime! are all the summer jams I’ll ever need from the Drums. “Let’s Go Surfing” is particularly stunning, the kind of song destined to be an albatross around the band’s neck. Somewhat surprisingly, the band decided to include both “Let’s Go Surfing” and another Summertime! track, “Down By the Water” on The Drums.
The inclusion of those two songs becomes less surprising when you realize they’re the best songs on the album. Of course, the Drums are not the first band (nor will they be the last band) to carry over songs from an EP to prop up a wobbly debut LP. That’s not to say The Drums is without a couple of brand new keepers. “Best Friend” and “Forever and Ever Amen” both channel New Order and the Smiths in such a direct, zealous way that you can’t even criticize the band for being derivative because that is their intention: to gleefully replicate their favorite bands. I’m not saying the Drums owe royalties to Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner, but, at the very least, they should mail out one hell of a thank you card.
The flip-side to the band’s charming Manchester-by-way-of-Florida homages (the band members are natives of the Sunshine State) is that it wears thin pretty quickly. One EP and one LP into their career, the Drums’ sound is already coming dangerously close to schtick. An EP was the perfect length to get your fill without it becoming grating, but The Drums is a slog and a half to get through in one sitting. There is little to no variation in mood, tempo or style. It's infuriatingly repetitive 44 minutes feel twice as long.
The album’s second half suffers from a considerable drop-off in quality after the relatively strong first half. On paper, song titles like “It Will All End in Tears” and “I Need Fun in My Life” look like Morrissey parodies. Unfortunately, they also play that way, but being beholden to their influences isn’t the Drums only problem. Their strict adherence to a puritanical pop template make them seem like luddites at a point in time where bands like Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors and TV on the Radio are flourishing and have become the indie flagbearers. I suppose you could argue that the Drums’ aesthetic is refreshing in some way, but, to my ears, it plays like a tedious time capsule. Listening to a band like the Drums, I can’t help wondering “where are they going with this?” If they have no ambition to be a more original and/or compositionally liberal band, they might as well just kick-start a career as a cover band right now.