Review: Drenge – ‘Drenge’

drengeartIt’s hard not to be suspicious when politicians endorse music.

You only have to look back to the Britpop movement – and that thing called ‘Cool Britannia’ – to see what can happen when pollies start frothing at the mouth over our favourite bands.

More recently, there were Gordon Brown’s eventually disproved claims of Arctic Monkeys fandom and David Cameron’s limp attempts to pledge his allegiances to The Smiths and The Jam –  two bands whose politics are worlds away from his own.

Essentially, the point is simple: no one wants to make state-sanctioned music. It’s pretty hard to be oppositional  – as most good rock music is –  when the parliament is singing your praises.

With this in mind, spare a thought for Drenge, a two-piece rock band from Castleton and the latest in a line of groups to receive Westminster’s stamp of approval, this time from outgoing Labour MP Tom Watson. Concluding his resignation letter to party leader Ed Miliband, Watson wrote, “And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge,” a tagline which seems likely to follow the group’s members, brothers Eoin and Rory Loveless.

Luckily for them, Drenge are deserving of the publicity that has since come their way.

Ironically, given the brouhaha, ‘Drenge‘ is decidedly apolitical. It wouldn’t be a disservice to say that in many cases the lyrics exist solely to serve the song. At least certainly not to impart any particular worldview on its listeners. Instead, their intentions are somewhere else entirely, as the wave of political journalists hounding the group in the past few weeks will have surely discovered.

From the stoner-rock opener track to the Nirvana-like ‘Face Like A Skull‘, Drenge’s aim is to “RAWK, man”. And based on that premise, this debut is difficult to fault. It’s 40-odd minutes of crunching garage-blues riffs, alternative-rock dynamics, and thunderous punk drumming. The production is straightforward with few obvious overdubs and an intentionally raw, live sound.

The record’s big strength is in its economy, with only two songs longer than four minutes. For this reason, the tracks never become stale as one blistering riff is quickly replaced by another. This also makes the eight-minute penultimate jam ‘Lets Pretend‘ seem a little misguided. If there was any nitpicking to be done, it would be here.

Another point worth making is that the spectre of Queens of the Stone Age hangs heavy throughout. In particular, ‘Bloodsports‘ and ‘Backwater‘ are particularly ‘Homme-like’. Squealing desert rock licks pop up frequently. In other places, they borrow liberally from the dirty but accessible blues of The Black Keys and, as already mentioned, Nirvana.

Still, for all the talk of rock, ‘Drenge’s quieter moments are among its most intriguing. ‘Bye Bye Bao Bao‘, a one-minute link that melds an overdriven electric guitar to a soft pop melody, recalls ‘Bandwagonesque‘ era Teenage Fanclub, while the beautiful album closer ‘Fuckabout‘ is arresting in its honesty, as evidenced by the final utterance:“I don’t give a fuck about people and love, they don’t piss me off, they just make me give up.” That cynical attitude is par for the course on ‘Drenge’; which also includes songs with titles such as ‘People In Love Make Me Feel Sick‘ and ‘I Don’t Want To Make Love To You‘.

Often when young bands are catapulted into the limelight for reasons other than their music – as has happened here – the resulting debut album is underwhelming.

In this case, Drenge have delivered a visceral expression of their live set – and fulfilled widespread lofty expectations in the process.

(Luke Henriques-Gomes)

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