It’s been four years since the last album from Drenge, one of the UK’s best two-piece bands – 2015’s Undertow – and new album Strange Creatures sees the now four-piece Drenge move into dialogical story-telling, it’s like an advert for film scoring services; the result of a night spent overindulging in the Stranger Things boxset.
Eminently, Eoin Loveless doesn’t really sing or verse anymore; he ruminates, rants, growls and grumbles. Album opener ‘Bonfire of the City Boys’ has something of Big Audio Dynamite’s ‘E=MC2’ about it – it’s all spoken myriad dialogue over drummer Rory’s punchy, rolling beat and is certainly one of the album’s strongest tracks.
Judging by lead tracks ‘Bonfire’ and ‘Never See the Signs’ it may appear that Eoin has chucked-in the guitar but thankfully it is not a total absence. The shreds more familiar to seasoned fans are sporadic and softer for sure but do return in meatier tracks like ‘This Dance’.
Things that go bump in the night is the evident theme on Strange Creatures: ‘Teenage Love’ is the 80s movie John Carpenter never made and the Nick Cave-esque ‘Prom Night’ has a deathly western twang, sounding exactly like a track you could expect to hear on the next season of Preacher.
‘Avalanches’ is one of the new unheard album tracks and a Strange Creatures highlight, a lonely deserted highway of a track that drives headlong through a thick spooky smog of glorious late 80s shoegaze.
As a long-time fan of the stripped-down grungy sound of 2013’s debut and 2015’s Undertow, I didn’t expect to enjoy this too much. Strange Creatures exceeded my expectations, which is delightful from a personal point of view but above all proves that this little two-piece from Derbyshire are capable of far more than perhaps some would have thought back in 2013.
Even so, Strange Creatures is not a perfect experiment. The album’s title track itself feels a little unavailing, while ‘No Flesh Road’ is also a little directionless, and in what is a bit of a theme throughout Strange Creatures, sees a long build-up cut short right at the moment where we’d expect a rock outfit like Drenge to recklessly turn the screw – but it’s a grungy crescendo that never comes. Of course, if the Loveless brother’s aim here is to create a deliberately enduring sense of suspense, then I guess they have achieved that. You can’t help feeling though that opening the throttle – just once – could have really added to the dynamics of the album. Instead it doesn’t really get any heavier than the guitar breaks in the opening track, ‘Bonfire’.
In the press release, the band said, “It’s a nocturnal record. A psychological horror movie on wax.” Against that brief, Strange Creatures is a success. The rest is just a question of taste.