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The Drums
Portamento Will Parkhouse , September 12th, 2011 12:25

You'd be forgiven for expecting the second album from The Drums to be a religious experience. Portamento's cover art, a childhood snap of singer and lead songwriter Jonathan Pierce, shows the youngster with devilishly bad case of camera red-eye standing in front of some fairly unpleasant green wallpaper as a smiling older woman looks on; a crucifix hangs behind Pierce on the wall, positioned over his head like the Sword of Damocles. And the first track is called 'Book of Revelation'.

Sadly for Pierce's devout parents (non-Christian music was banned at home when Jonathan was growing up), the revelations signify religious disillusionment. "I've seen the world and there's no heaven and there's no hell," croons Pierce on that track – in subtlety the lyrics are probably on a par with some of Frank Turner's atheist hollering – but it turns out he's making a move, the sly dog: "And I believe that when we die we die / So let me love you tonight, let me love you tonight."

And aside for synthy mid-album oddity 'Searching for Heaven', that's religion done and dusted. Amen to that, really, because we really want to hear songs about surfing, dead best friends and heartbreak if possible from this lot. Fans will be relieved to hear the Brooklyn boys haven't "done an MGMT", with the formula remaining intact, despite the departure of guitarist Adam Kessler: Pierce still sings and swoops like he's blond and good-looking, Jacob Graham hasn't yet managed to find that elusive fourth note in his guitar solos ("I don't even know what chords are," he once said – we can report that this still seems to be the case), the basslines are still driving, and the drums, lowercase, are still discreetly buried in the mix, ironically enough.

If there's a change in tone, it's subtle. Where debut EP Summertime! and the über-hyped eponymous first album's songs had an oddly melancholic joyfulness that captured a number of imaginations back in early 2010, here there's a quiet switch to an oddly uplifting melancholy. On the best songs, that is – too many just sound gloomy and dull. 'Days' is easily the strongest track here, beautifully muted and reminiscent of Yeah Yeah Yeahs at their most tender. Meanwhile, the likes of 'Money' will get audiences going, though you can't quite see it replacing 'Let's Go Surfing' or 'Best Friend' in anyone's affections, despite having a chorus 50p rate taxpayers and looters alike will be able to sing along to: "I want to buy you something / But I don't have any money, I don't have any money."

But there's always a 'but', particularly in Drums lyrics – "You know I love you / But I want to kill you" ('I Need a Doctor') and so on – and here's ours: there's far too many songs that don't burrow their way in the way they should, where that stripped-down sound feels more like emptiness. 'If He Likes It Let Him Do It' is spare, gothic and forgettable, 'Please Don't Leave' has a vocal and backing that don't seem to match except in that they're both hugely unsatisfying and the quavering off-key vocal of 'In the Cold' is as unaccommodating as the track's title. Even the sunny closer 'How It Ended' isn't enough to salvage side two's downturn and verges on the sentimental with its schmaltzy E.T.-like "I'll always be right here" chorus. Maybe Pierce needs to head back to church after all.