A RIPTIDE OF EMOTIONS
We were first introduced to the British rock duo that is Drenge when they made their television debut on Letterman. With the aid of the album’s producer Ross Orton working the bass, the Loveless brothers spurred into a steadfast punkish rebellion of ‘We Can Do What We Want’. Even as frontman Eoin had his face averted from the crowd, the supercharged lead single and its insistent “We can do, we can do what we want” chorus were evocative of the best anthems that could fully illustrate the feelings of a defiant spirit. When the octogenarian TV host let out a satisfied exclaim in response to their killer performance – that was exactly how we felt.
Upon delving into the band’s second full-length release, it is apparent that the brothers have gotten an attitude adjustment since their eponymous debut, which was rife with a general youthful insolence. Despite its unkempt musical direction, it at least demonstrated a sense of adventurous experimentation as the album ventured into varying tones and borrowed influences with each sprawling song. So with Undertow, if you were expecting eleven songs that stemmed from the essence of ‘We Can Do What We Want’, it doesn’t, but the brothers propose something more substantial.
However, the album opens with a feeble, nameless one-minute introduction that was so unnecessary that it simply dissipated into the following reverb-filled garage track ‘Running Wild’. An unimpressive start, but the album soon garners some traction as the pugilistic drumming of ‘Never Awake’ knocks us into attention as Eoin’s faraway vocals sweep the words across the backdrop of thuds and clashes of the guitar and drums. On the demanding ‘Favourite Son’, the song is peddled by gruelling drums to match the ambiguously arresting statement of “I wanna be loved by your favourite son.” The song charges towards you as the words are spat out in a fervent manner. Following in the twisted vein, ‘The Snake’ explores a dark sexual experience where the titular lyric of “I’m the snake, I’m the snake that puts you down” is able to conjure vivid imagery as Eoin cleverly utilised phonetics in words such as ‘kiss’, ‘satisfied’, and ‘snake’, where the sibilant ‘S’ is accentuated to give out a menacing hiss.
With hand claps signalling ‘Side By Side’, it also introduces the transition from the hurried snarl, edgy grunge of the preceding tracks to something that’s less aggressive in its assault. There’s something in the post-punk brooding groove of ‘Side By Side’ that makes it slinky and thoroughly infectious. We can imagine an audience languidly swaying closed-eyed. The band continues to tame their raw, eager energy with ‘The Woods’, as the singing reverts back to a settled vocal with almost no exertion at all. The instrumental treatment of ‘Undertow’ provides the dip in pace for the album, which steadily builds upon itself in a sparring attempt. It really does not amount to anything; it’s mediocre at best, yet another needless album filler. The vulnerable narrative of ‘Standing in the Cold’ restarts the album with a new perspective. It doesn’t only display Eoin’s songwriting ability but also the band’s capability of affecting listeners without the need for high-octane theatrics. His voice sounds as if it’s on the verge of breaking as he delivers a melancholy vignette of unreciprocated love – the anguish heightens as his voice evolves into yelping and the despondent guitar is revved to mirror the dejection.
The band has certainly found a clearer vision for their sophomore effort. The brothers still offer us their angst-riddled spunk, but they’ve reined in their belligerence in exchange for cleverer writing and honing their instrumental prowess. There’s also an unmistakably magnetic power that’s exuded, be it in the rage-ridden anthems or in their eerier compositions. Nevertheless, the result is an enveloping experience and we’re more than glad to let ourselves be consumed by it.