The Loveless brothers add a bass player and a dash of classic rock to their sinister and gripping second album
When their self-titled debut clattered out of the Derbyshire village of Castleton in August 2013, it was clear that Drenge were troublemakers of the very best kind. Stroppy, pale-faced brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless looked committed to near-vampirical levels of sun avoidance. They boshed out a thrilling, no-nonsense racket borne of the frustration of living in isolated countryside. ‘Drenge’’s controlled explosions of adolescent rage and small-town ennui were exciting, but there was a worry of one-dimensionality, of imminent burnout after such monumental punk-ass moaning.
Over a year and a half later, Drenge are still mighty pissed off, but they’ve channelled that mardiness into impressive progression. Album number two sees them team up again with Ross Orton – who, based in his studio next door to a knocking shop on the outskirts of Sheffield, seems to have worked with the city’s entire musical population, co-producing Arctic Monkeys’ ‘AM’, working with Richard Hawley on Monkeys’ B-side ‘You And I’ and playing on Jarvis Cocker’s two solo albums. Under Orton’s guidance, the Loveless brothers – who themselves recently moved to Sheffield – are unabashedly wading into classic rock waters as well as holding firm to their garage roots.
Drenge might have ditched the sticks, but there’s still a dogged commitment to keeping things local. ‘The Woods’ – the best thing they’ve written – is not just a beautifully evil bastard of a song, but one that sees them trudging through neighbouring landmarks (“Burn my body by the banks of the Derwent”), quoting the Lord’s Prayer ( “Lead us not into temptation/but deliver us from evil”) and cribbing from ‘Rumours’ era Fleetwood Mac on what is the most epic powerhouse guitar solo of 2015 so far. ‘Have You Forgotten My Name?’ boasts similar geographical amblings (“We lit a fire on the moors/To watch the purple heather and the gorse/Go up in smoke”) and so much drum thwacking and stadium-sized guitar widdling that it seems ready to break out into ‘The Chain’.
This isn’t so much a progression as a rebirth. Sonically, the touchstones are also kept to mainland Britain. With a growling rhythm but strangely cutesy lyrics (“I wanna be hugged and I wanna be kissed/I don’t wanna be fucked I just wanna be his”), ‘Favourite Son’ might initially seem like a Nirvana pastiche, but it’s indebted to the grot-abilly of Brighton’s Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster.
Where ‘Drenge’ offered brutal bloodshed and casual violence, ‘Undertow’ is much more focused on sneaking malevolence. The addition of bass guitar, played by Rob Graham – old friend and ex of blues-rock duo Wet Nuns – on ‘The Snake’, pulsing QOTSA-style instrumental ‘Undertow’ and the decidedly mean ‘Side By Side’, not only beefs up Drenge’s sound, but adds a depth of emotion that carries throughout this gripping record. Like a well-paced thriller, we skip from moody scene-setters (the Danzig-on-a-day-trip of ‘Never Awake’) to the likes of full-throttle comeback single ‘We Can Do What We Want’, which makes a rare excursion into a major key for some Buzzcocks punk carnage.
‘Undertow’ doesn’t just make Drenge sound like the UK’s most brilliantly disorderly band, it makes the Peak District seem utterly sinister place, full of gun-toting deviants in North Face jackets and cream-tea-guzzling car-jackers. Consider our train tickets booked.