Album Review: The Drums – ‘Portamento’

Album Review: The Drums - 'Portamento'


Channelling self-pity into sweet, jangly pop

The sleeve of [a]The Drums[/a]’ second album is a family photo of a young Jonathan Pierce standing next to a middle-aged woman, probably his gran. His eyes are photoshopped red, and above his head (which sports the exact same haircut he has today), a wall-mounted crucifix hangs ominously. He may as well have scribbled “[i]I’ve got issues[/i]” across his face. Or have drawn a little Jesus on the cross with a huge knob dangling from its forehead. It’s that subtle.

The record itself is no less overt, baring its troubled soul across 12 songs of parent-bashing, church-hating and self-loathing. The whole thing reeks of a man begging for psychological issues with the same twatty desperation the bored middle classes beg for wheat allergies. Yet despite the persecution complex, [b]‘Portamento’[/b] does exactly what [a]The Drums[/a] do best –preen and pose from start to finish, decked out in insanely catchy riffs and [a]The Smiths[/a]-like melancholy. This time, there are no surfboards on which to glide across the sea of angst – only heavy memories of departed girlfriends, wanker ex-bandmates and HATE, HATE, HATE dragging them beneath the waves. It’s a deeper, more penetrating record as a result.

“I wrote the lyrics for the first album as if I was 10 years younger,” Pierce told [i]NME last month[/i]. “That’s why everything’s translated from a teenage standpoint. But with this record it’s very much now.” Older and wiser then, but they still shoot their load too early. Opener [b]‘Book Of Revelations’[/b] is the best thing the band have ever done. Announcing itself with a sigh that sets the tone as spectacularly right as the ill-judged sex grunts on debut opener [b]‘Best Friend’[/b] (a very unsexy song about death) got it wrong, you’re reminded that Pierce may be one of the most punchable men in music, but he and his band are possessed of a talent to write genius pop songs.

“[i]Oh darlin’, you are the son of an evil man/I know you hate yourself, but you’re nothing like him[/i],” he croons knowingly, as Strokesy guitars jangle above steady handclaps. [b]‘Days’[/b] follows, all bittersweet sentiments and sneer, before [b]‘What You Were’[/b] adds trumpets and hip swing to the classic post-C86 posturing. First single [b]‘Money’[/b] has the head-over-heels pessimism and instant infection of classic [a]Smiths[/a], Jacob Graham evoking his inner Marr to sit alongside Pierce’s shameless [a]Morrissey[/a].

“I knew in the back of my head that believing in Jesus was nonsense,” Pierce told us, and you know what, he’s right. Only a godless world could inflict such sorrow as three of the next four tracks. At least they’ve bunched them together for easy skipping. [b]‘I Don’t Know How To Love’[/b] and [b]‘If He Likes It Let Him Do It’[/b] are lazy, ‘poor me’ moans, but the real turkey is [b]‘Searching For Heaven’[/b], a sloppy unloading of sub-[a]Kraftwerk[/a] shit featuring the whiniest vocal ever put to record. Seriously, don’t do it to yourself. The world doesn’t need another killer on its streets, and you WILL become one about 1.24 in when a horrible high-pitched [a]Thom Yorke[/a]-esque squeal pierces your sanity.

In the last third, normal service is resumed: a lifetime of woes distilled into catchy pop tunes. [b]‘Please Don’t Leave’[/b] and [b]‘I Need A Doctor’[/b] evoke longtime heroes [a]The Field Mice[/a], while [b]‘In The Cold’[/b] proves that [a]The Drums[/a] can do slow and tender. Closer [b]‘How It Ended’[/b] ties the whole thing together with hope, and we’re left feeling that with a little more self-censorship and less browbeating we’d be looking at one of the albums of the year. As it is, and considering the upheaval following Adam Kessler’s departure, it’s best to look at [b]‘Portamento’[/b] as a marker of the potential brilliance that album three could bring.

Mike Williams