Corrie Innes reviews
Drenge’s eponymous debut was a fantastic album. It captured teenage angst and the boredom and restriction of small-town monotony in a way few bands have managed in years, and imbued the results with a genuine menace; you really believe it when Eoin Loveless barks that he wants to ‘break you in half’. ‘Drenge’ was a menacing near masterpiece which won them the respect but not the fame they deserve. Undertow, their second effort, is even better. It takes the teenage angst and threatening demeanour and beefs it up. Helped in part by the addition of a bass player for the first time, the brothers’ teenage existential crisis has morphed into a more mature form of malevolence on Undertow.
The album’s first track proper, ‘Running Wild’, exemplifies the onomatopoeic aspect of their name. Its echoing riff and reverberating vocals set the tone for the album. Single ‘Never Awake’ carries on the vibe; laying down pounding repetitive drums as we’re politely requested to ‘twist the knife after you stick it in’. ‘The Snake’ takes a riff which would’ve sat perfectly on ‘In Utero’, and feels intuitively bred to make you feel uneasy; ‘I’m the snake’, Eoin hisses as he recounts the tale of an ambiguous sexual interaction gone violent. ‘Side by Side’ continues the malevolent air, chopping and changing from grungy stabbing guitar to scrappy wailing guitar all over a frantic and frenetic drum beat. Combined with the unpredictable tempo changes and disquieting lyrics about falling asleep ‘in the woods, side by side’, ‘Side by Side’ becomes an intense, and intensely brilliant, song.
But that’s only half the story for this album. Amidst the grimy backstreets and blood stained alleys of Undertow, lie two great, beaming, shiny neon signs; pop songs. ‘Favourite Son’ has a quirky riff, rolling drums and a mentalist chorus, like ‘Franz Ferdinand’ on Special Brew. Though in terms of potential anthems, it’s ‘We Can Do What We Want’, lead single for the album, which takes the crown. It starts off sounding like a (great) ‘Two Door Cinema Club’ song, but quickly descends into a nihilistic romp with rapid fire spat vocals, a frankly huge million miles an hour chorus, and a middle section which will birth a thousand circle pits. For all the menace, Drenge still know to have a good time.
Undertow is one of the finest albums of the year so far, and if the gods are kind, it will gain them the recognition they undoubtedly deserve but almost certainly don’t crave. If anyone tells you that rock music isn’t as good as it used to be, or British indie is boring, or that the guitar is dying; show them this album. Because fucking hell is it good.
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