In 2021, it doesn’t take long for the War on Drugs‘ Adam Granduciel to get to the point. “I’m always changing,” he sings on “Living Proof”, the opener to the band’s latest, I Don’t Live Here Anymore. As a lead single, the relatively muted song was a red herring for an album filled with arena-fitted anthems. But as an opening track, it’s incredibly portentous. Because, well, a lot has changed for the War on Drugs.
Since the band’s breakthrough, 2011’s Slave Ambient, Granduciel has fine-tuned the band’s combination of heartland rock and gauzy shoegaze, leading to the unsuspecting anthems that filled 2014’s Lost in the Dream and 2017’s A Deeper Understanding. Then came a Grammy, festival headlining slots, and calls from legitimate rock royalty. Somewhere in the last decade, the band that once drew comparisons to Spacemen 3 became the Great American Rock Band. But on I Don’t Live Here Anymore, Granduciel abandons much of the trance-inducing motorik, long run-times, and woozy drones of their previous records for the most compact, straight-forward pop songs of his career.
If you’re keeping score at home, you can probably see where this is going. What does a band deeply indebted to 1980s Bruce Springsteen sound like when they write their unabashed pop record? The answer isn’t too hard to find. In the past, though, Granduciel’s Springsteen worship has been chiefly aspirational. The songs have been too long, too reliant on a mood, to match the kind of immediacy of something like “Born in the U.S.A.”
That’s no longer the case, though. Granduciel has stadiums in mind and is swinging for the nosebleeds. There’s the exhilarating thump of “Wasted”, the unexpected, hair-raising drop-in “Old Skin”, the screeching solo in electro-dance banger “Victim”, and “I Don’t Wanna Wait”, a track that sounds like “Cover Me” slowed to a seductive crawl.
But Born in the U.S.A., despite its populist production, is a dark record, with songs about mental illness, loneliness, and despair. I Don’t Live Here Anymore, in many ways, is its lyrical opposite. Nearly every track mentions change, movement, and the inevitability of time — it’s a record about growth, but it’s never drowning in existential dread. These are songs about getting old and all that comes with it, but it sounds like a celebration rather than a eulogy.
Maybe that’s why Granduciel, more so than anything else he’s recorded, sounds so self-assured as a frontman. He often hid beneath endless layers of reverb or incomprehensibly abstract lyrics in the past, but on these songs, his voice is front and center. The change is no more evident than on the record’s final track, “Occasional Rain”, one of the most striking songs of his career. Rather than allowing himself to be lost in the storm, Granduciel recognizes that it will pass, just like everything else. “Ain’t the sky just shades of grey / Until you’ve seen it from the other side?” he sings. On I Don’t Live Here Anymore, he’s invited us to follow him there.