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Why the Drums Write Great Break up Songs

Posted: 10/09/11 01:00

Some music critics have been rather unkind about the new album by The Drums. But these hacks are missing the point about the New York indie troupe's second full-length offering, which was released this week.

It may be samey, but its strength lies in singer Jonathan Pierce's knack of writing perfectly-shaped break-up songs. It's a skill he honed on an earlier EP and debut album, both of which were also chocka with ruinous behaviour, head-in-the-oven heartache and desperate, pillow-squeezing longing.

Half of the LP - titled Portamento - sees Pierce and his fellow Anglophiles musing thoughtfully on love slipping through your fingers, love lost down the back of the sofa and tainted love that can never be what it once was. Love, for them, is a never-ending, stomach-churning roller coaster ride with a destination board marked "HELL".

Certain music journalists have commented that the band sound a bit - well - down. But melancholia is part of The Drums' appeal. It's also part of music's broader appeal. Nick Hornby deftly wove this theme of music and misery into High Fidelity, one of the greatest break up (and get back together) novels.

Sad songs also provide succour. Sometimes you want to know that other people are going through tough times too. When you see a mumbling tramp slumped in an alleyway drinking bleach, his white tracky bottoms encrusted with yellow streaks stretching from sweaty groin to knee, you can proudly stroll by with your head held high, thinking: "At least I only had the three bottles of Lambrini last night." As long as the tramp doesn't look familiar or respond to "Dad?", then just keep on strolling. Sad songs are great like this.

Professional album reviewers - those who's job it is to pass judgement on new releases week after week like production line automata churning out prose instead of parts for cars - can hardly be blamed for giving an opinion. Even if it is, in this case, a dodgy one.

Maybe some of these hacks have no wont for this accessible "love gone bad" schtick. Maybe instead they enjoy smiley Ikea shopping trips and cuddly chicken dinners and lovely walks through lovely parks - while you look on with a death wish in your eye, on your way to seek out homeless men in dank, ammonia-scented side streets to muse on what your own sickening failed future might look like?

One thing's for sure: as a listener, you feel for Pierce's previous partners. He must have been a nightmare boyfriend - though at least you'd get a song written about you. Of course going out with anyone who works in the creative industries - be that foppish yet hideously talented indie singer or morose music hack who's good with words but less so with empathy - is about as advisable as briefly leaving a walking tour of Kabul, going up to a box sprouting wires and rattling it to see if you've won a prize.

Break up songs are beguiling little sideshow spectacles with the strange power to make you happy and sad all at once. Like sour-flavour sweets. And despite some critical grumbles, it's true that The Drums now have a formidable arsenal of these cracked pop songs addressing love and loss.

So if you've ever wrecked a relationship or had your own heart shattered with a sledgehammer into a million tiny atoms of misery - and if it's led to too many nights on the tiles fuelled by Lambrini (or bleach) - then perhaps you'll enjoy revelling in The Drums' musical mire.

 

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