Photo: Joris Casaer / Hive Mind PR

Belgian Rockers dEUS Wonder ‘How to Replace It’

The long-running Belgian rock outfit dEUS’ first LP in 11 years is a mixed bag, but it shows that they haven’t lost their experimental verve.

How to Replace It
[PIAS] Recordings
17 February 2023

How to Replace It begins with thunderous tom drums as if dEUS were making an entrance akin to a gladiator strutting into an arena in an old-school sword-and-sandals epic. Such ostentatiousness, in this context, isn’t mere flourish. Though dEUS remain one of the most important Belgian rock outfits, over a decade has passed since their last outing, 2012’s Following Sea. The gap between that record and How to Replace It is the longest in the dEUS discography; the prior pace had the group putting out a new record every three to four years on average. The opening and title track of How to Replace It announces dEUS’ return with gusto, perhaps indicating that this album, the eighth for the band, marks a new and bold chapter.

Not that boldness is a new posture for dEUS. The group’s music, anchored in the rock vernacular, has long been mercurial, evasive of the neat labels we music critics are inclined to deploy in reviews like this one. The ideal entry point for the uninitiated is not any of dEUS’ eight studio records dating back to 1994, but rather Selected Songs 1994-2014, a compilation of the band’s strongest work prior to How to Replace It. The herky-jerky riff of “The Architect” (from 2008’s Vantage Point) gives way to the clean-toned indie rock of “Little Arithmetics” (from 1996’s In a Bar, Under the Sea), which then segues into the near spoken word of “Constant Now” (from 2011’s Keep You Close).

The dEUS highlight reel forms a colorful collage. The high point of Pocket Revolution, if not dEUS’ whole career, is the lovelorn lounge ballad “Nothing Really Ends”, where frontman Tom Barman’s at times too abstract by half lyrics clarify into a compelling exploration of that familiar topic of unrequited love: “I once told a friend / That nothing really ends, no one can prove it / So I’m asking you now, can it possibly be / That you still love me?” The same band that wrote that tune also wrote “Quatre Mains”, which sounds like the score to a Gallic arthouse video game. One could never accuse dEUS of resting on their laurels.

If How to Replace It proves anything, it’s that dEUS remain as restless on matters of genre as they ever have. The keyboard lick that opens “Man of the House” makes it sound like a Bond theme in waiting, only for the song to then abruptly shift to a fuzzy bass synth, over which Barman sings with syncopated energy in the chorus. The gentle piano ballad “Love Breaks Down” (no connection to Prefab Sprout) seems to usher the album to a more reflective closing, only for the French language mini-epic “Le Blues Polaire” to answer it with controlled intensity.

But for every instance where How to Replace It’s eclecticism proves a showcase for dEUS’ experimental verve, there’s a corresponding out-of-place moment that prevents the record from cohering as a whole. It is unclear why the bluesy rock ‘n’ roll of “Cadillac” invites a sitar in one of its choruses, for example.

And yet the high points of this album more than evince the persistent quality of dEUS’ craft after 11 years. The second single, “1989”, finds Barman in crooner mode, brooding nostalgic poetry at the very low end of his vocal register: “All the azaleas in their prime / An imaginary shrine / They are frozen in their bloom.” He then follows up that charismatic performance with the strongest dEUS chorus in some time on “Faux Bamboo”, a song whose focused instrumentation and consistent textures exhibit a kind of focus that, had it been used throughout the rest of the album, could very well have made this a sharper affair. Then again, dEUS’ wandering sonic tastes are part of the experience they offer listeners.

A newcomer to the band might wonder what exactly these guys are playing at, but to those familiar with these veterans of Belgium’s underrated rock scene, How to Replace It demonstrates why dEUS remain irreplaceable.

RATING 6 / 10


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