The Drums frontman Jonathan Pierce has a habit of being extremely candid in interviews, and does not hesitate to give his honest opinions on other bands and even his own bandmates. In the past year, he has shared his views on the band losing a member, adding two and having nearly broken up as Pierce fell out with Jacob Graham, the band’s other creative force. That they have managed to release Portamento so soon after the first is a miracle given their personal lives.
“Portamento” is a musical term meaning a smooth transition from one tone to another. It is fairly obvious to see why the record has been given the name, as one could fairly easily shuffle the two Drums albums and not be able to tell which is which, or even tell songs apart at times. Portamento begins with the romantic and familiar-sounding ‘Book Of Revelations’, an atheistic ode capturing rather brilliantly the transition from severe religious upbringing to atheism: A feeling that one is free from this constraint upon reason and evidence coupled with a fear of the unknown and the fragility of life. Alienation from religion is one of the central themes of the record, as the album’s cover transparently suggests, with a tiny Pierce standing red-eyed underneath a crucifix.
Unfortunately, after the opening track come five nearly identical songs, and listening to the record becomes like checking one’s watch to see if it’s almost time to leave work yet. It’s not just the music that begins to merge into one amorphous, forgettable mulch, but the lyrical content too. There is nothing wrong with bearing your soul and your troubles through music, but Pierce’s laments are vague and quickly become tiresome. Listening to this pastiche really shows how Morrissey mastered the art.
When ‘Searching For Heaven’ comes on, it feels like a huge relief. It’s a kind of arpeggiated electronic ballad, with Pierce echoing Thom Yorke. It really threatens to add another dimension to the record, but then ‘Please Don’t Leave’ begins and normal service is restored. As a listening experience, it proves rather frustrating.
If you are already a huge fan of The Drums and hate the idea of change, this is the record for you. Portamento seems like a record stuck for ideas, rush-recorded and released while people still remember who The Drums are.
Good: ‘Searching For Heaven’ shows another side to the band
Bad: Derivative, whiny and forgettable