PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Lovedrug: Pretend You're Alive

Richard T. Williams

Lovedrug

Pretend You're Alive

Label: The Militia Group
US Release Date: 2004-07-27
UK Release Date: 2004-07-26
Amazon
iTunes

A stunning example of a band too near perfection from the onset, Lovedrug will most likely wobble on their high plateau for a bit, look around at all the options before them, and -- like so many great bands who unfortunately allow themselves to get creatively milked and squandered by the industry -- take the wrong step forward. But until then, we can listen to Pretend You're Alive with the enthusiasm of knowing that Lovedrug remain sacred for now, for in the world of rock and roll, the promise and the hope of an exciting band with merely the potential to deliver us from banality are the purest thrill, the sweetest high, and the deepest emotion all rolled into one.

All of which is not to say that Pretend You're Alive has nothing to offer beyond promise. Rarely does a band come along who are so evolved in the art of guitar-based pop songwriting that back-to-back ballads don't grow boring, spirituality doesn't seem shallow or dumb, and profundity isn't forced. With songs like the radio-ready "Spiders" and the early single "Rocknroll", Lovedrug manage to balance the ingredients perfectly, even if they veer dangerously close to generic major label greatness -- something for which these specific songs appear to be auditioning. Holding the same ballad-heavy station as Snow Patrol or Idlewild (six of the album's 13 tracks could be classified as such), Lovedrug keep safely out of the Coldplay camp by infusing their lush, polished sound with a furious dose of '90s multi-guitar indie-rock dynamism. Meanwhile, the best tracks on Pretend You're Alive demonstrate the band's splintery edges as still intact and worth relishing, yet in serious danger of being sanded off.

The brilliant standout "Blackout" sounds deceptively like the soundtrack to a pivotal WB teen show break-up scene, belying the weighty grimness of the song. Not only is the primary vocal hook of the anthemic chorus ("I'll save my life for something good") coupled with images of depravity and violence ("And when he's punching her skull on the bathroom floor / Does it get him off?"), but frontman Michael Shepard performs a chilling literary trick in the verses, detaching the persona of the song from his abhorrent actions by singing in first person (i.e. "I am on the prowl," "I am hailing a cab"), then suddenly switching to the third: "I am is creeping on the streets tonight." The song remains free of melodrama or gothic pretension, but it maintains just enough emotional angst to serve multiple purposes -- for multiple audiences.

The aching "In Red" immediately rolls to shore on a lulling bass-heavy throb akin to Wish-era Cure -- Lovedrug's sound could easily fill a stadium -- while lamenting an individual at honor's mercy, possibly a soldier justifying his woeful position, fighting a war in which he doesn't believe. Most artists would use a line like, "On a beach we're dressed in red" to mean something celebratory and light-hearted, but Lovedrug savor their words as opportunities to feature their refreshing intelligence -- a strength on which they never need to depend.

"Down Towards the Healing", the album's best ballad, is spiritual emotionalism at its fragile best, embellished by piano, like Radiohead's "Pyramid Song" if its self-deprecation were resigned rather than wallowing; in contrast, "The Monster" serves as a descendent of The Bends. In a similar vein, "Pandamoranda" redresses the band in high-angst, near-operatic hard rock like Placebo or Muse, and Shepard's Matt Bellamy-meets-Björk vocal style certainly rises to the challenge. The musicians, especially drummer Matthew Putman, are in fine form throughout the entire record, but they sound especially brutal here. While none of these pieces argue for Lovedrug's individuality (though, as Americans, they do stand apart from their mostly country-laced peers), they boast the band's ability to achieve what others have taken several albums to perfect.

As with most albums dominated by a handful of lengthy ballads, Pretend You're Alive suffers a bit from its 57-minute runtime, especially as momentum is lost about two-thirds of the way in. However, the weaker tracks still showcase the record's extraordinary production (by Sponge's Tim Patalan) and mastering, which prove that "indie" is no longer synonymous with "cheaper-sounding", and should therefore convince the band that they are better off without the confinement of a major label's commercial appetite. Lovedrug's sound is commercial enough. With any more palatable smoothing, the band will lose what makes their music so addictive and emotionally fulfilling, while we will simply overdose.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.