Amazing Songs: The War on Drugs, "Holding On"

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The War on Drugs

Change communicates value in a way that isn’t always conducive to creativity. Guns N Roses didn’t need to change, and when they did it was awful. Critics told The Strokes to change then punished them when they did. God himself doesn’t even change — check out Malachi 3:6. Adam Granduciel has built a career on mirroring the God of the Bible in that way. Cruising at 150 bpm at seven seconds in, “Holding On”, the new War on Drugs single, has a vigor that is precisely unchanged since 2014’s Lost in the Dream.

The time comes in a little over half the length of the other recent War on Drugs song — the woozy, uniform “Thinking of a Place”. The single has synthesizers, what sounds like a xylophone but mostly rhythmic guitars and tight drums that never stray — like a well trained dog. The rhythms here are so propulsive, bobbing your head or tapping your toe is a must. Granduciel has a way too, of sitting just a hair behind the beat, like he’s being pull by a horse on a highway, but the camera pans down and he’s in a recliner on wheels.

Granduciel still sings like Bob Dylan, he still rocks like Bruce Springsteen. In every promo photo he looks like he just smoked a pack of Marlboros in his broken-in jeans and is ready for an apple pie. He is as American as the long dusty highways and grain filled horizons his songs emulate. This one in particular, like the best songs on his last two records spends its energy in an exercise in repetition and consistency.

“Great, another War on Drugs review referencing consistency,” you’re probably thinking. Totally agree! But here’s the thing. That’s the narrative — and “Another great record” is a narrative that should be used more often — because it’s accurate here! Ha.

When Granduciel croons, “He never gonna change; he never gonna learn” its vague, like the best Americana lyrics, easy to try on like coat in the mirror of Goodwill, it fits just right. You can imagine the War on Drugs changing, but don’t count on it. When he sings “Now I’m headed down a different road”, its obvious that he isn’t talking about musical or writing choices. The War on Drugs are here to stay, wearing in this sound like a butt groove on a 1970’s leather couch.