If it ain’t broke, why fix it? It’s this type of thinking that holds so many bands back, but not Drenge. Not on Strange Creatures.
On their third album Drenge have taken the seemingly unusual decision to recreate an already unique sound. What’s more interesting is the direction they’ve chosen to take. With two influential rock records under their belt, an acoustic album wouldn’t be a surprise. Or a live one, or one that comes with a cuddly theme. But synth? Where did that come from?
The synth-pop sound at the heart of Strange Creatures still makes for a fantastic rock album at its core. Unlike, say, The Sunshine Underground’s fantastic XXX, on which they fully dissolved into their dance tendencies, Drenge have changed everything to remain more true to their sound than ever. Everything is grim, angry yet glossy (like the 80s). However, every neon lick is also filled with seething anger hidden amidst the disco rhythms and synth intensity.
Bonfire Of The City Boys induces visions of The Fall or other angry 70s poets, powerful and awesome like Baz Lurhman’s Sunscreen for being devoid of wonder but full of writhing aggression. This Dance is more typical of Drenge’s previous work, but still comes with a slightly more rhythmic flow, though its slight disco rhythm gets beaten to a bloody pulp by its total determination.
The tempo changes significantly on Autonomy. Without being obvious it seems to reference a lot of things, landing like some kind of Echo & The Bunnymen cover of INXS. Funky and fun, but tinged with something darker. You can almost taste the orange peel. Teenage Love pushes things further, there’s hints of Fade To Grey, only darker. It could be Cabaret Voltaire or Love & Rockets trying to create something upbeat and failing, but still being brilliant in the process.
The title-track is full Depeche Mode, and they do it bloody well. A brilliant, haunting piece of music, the growing tension throughout builds real impact. Prom Night is a totally different beast. The sax solo alone is the very essence of nostalgia; can any other instrument sound so forlorn? With it and a great build, Drenge conjure up feelings of regret, despair and pain, and the sax makes those feelings real. In fact it almost transcends the song, like Claire Torry’s vocals of Great Gig In The Sky. On paper it sounds tacky, but on record it’s urgent and necessary and amazing all at once.
Avalanches then darkens the tone further. There’s something eerie about this one, with a drone that imbues deep concern. Beauty can be dark, and this is as dark and light as it can possibly be. Album closer When I Look Into Your Eyes is a western soundtrack coming of age. It’s strange but beautiful and full of atmosphere like a Sergio Leone panorama – it just seems to wistfully stretch on forever. It’s a vista, not a sprint.
The album uses its 80s inspiration to finally highlight Eoin Loveless’ new-found depths. By channeling Dave Gahan and more, Strange Creatures widens Drenge’s range and gives their anger a voice beyond pure fury. Here more than ever, Loveless channels Gahan’s middle England listless fury to make something beautiful. What makes this album so successful is not that Drenge have changed their sound, they’ve merely found a way to enhance it. It’s not a reinvention, it’s a refinement.
Strange Creatures is a fascinating record that takes real chances. It pushes the listener beyond their expectation without robbing them of reward. The joy of this album comes from knowing that it’s not experimentation for the sake of it. Instead, it’s allowing the song to guide the sound.
What it delivers is an ingredient that no one realised was missing, but once tasted it can’t be lived without.
By Live4ever - Posted on 21 Feb 2019 at 8:12am