It is impossible to talk about The War on Drugs’ third album “Lost in the Dream” without highlighting ‘Red Eyes.’ Simply put, the first single is one of the best songs from the past decade. Over the course of five minutes, lead singer Adam Granduciel paints a picture of the exhaustion he feels from being in a relationship with a woman who seems incapable of settling into adult life. Lyrically, ‘Red Eyes’ is a welcome change of pace from The War on Drugs’ former stunted-adult musings. It's refreshingly mature for the band, yet the whole song is elevated to true greatness by the magnificent orchestration behind Granduciel’s words. The stunningly gorgeous song combines lush strings with complex guitar work and urgent drums to create music that is the aural equivalent of soaring. Rock is full of songs that equate grandiosity with emotion without actually providing substance. The War on Drugs perfects this ratio.
The War on Drugs have hit upon a rather innovative sound for the new record. “Lost in the Dream” traffics in ‘80s rock filtered through a jam band perspective. Eight of the album’s 10 tracks surpass the five-minute mark, and nearly all except ‘Red Eyes’ sound like a collaboration between Bruce Springsteen and Phish. It’s a weird but mostly pleasant juxtaposition of killer riffs and experimental sections that traverse themes of alienation and Americana. The War on Drugs have a very keen pop sensibility that’s evident in all of their songs; at least two minutes in all of the tracks have parts that will be stuck in your head for days.
What makes “Lost in the Dream” merely good instead of great is the album’s construction. It’s a weird criticism, but for a band that traffics in atmospherics and emotion like The War on Drugs, the album feels lopsided and aimless at times. After the excellent one-two punch of ‘Under the Pressure’ and ‘Red Eyes,’ the album settles into a hazy groove for the remaining eight tracks. At times, this isn’t an issue, as many of the hooks (and Granduciel’s knack for imbuing the lyrics with a sense of drama) are enough to give each song merit. There’s nothing wrong with a long song done right—as long as there is substance. Too much of “Lost in the Dream” is unnecessary experimental noodling that makes the longer tracks disjointed. The album also suffers for putting ‘Red Eyes’ as its second song. As the clear emotional climax of “Lost in the Dream,” one cannot listen to the rest of the album without feeling like it peaked too soon. This disjointedness prevents the album from living up to the masterpiece of ‘Red Eyes.’