100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #24: “Pain” by The War on Drugs

The song at #24 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Pain” by Philadelphia alternative rock band The War on Drugs. The second single from their magnificent, highly-acclaimed 2017 album A Deeper Understanding, as well as the second of their songs on this list (“Holding On”, also from that album, ranks at #71), “Pain” is my favorite of their many incredible songs. As I’ve alluded to on several previous posts about songs on this list, I know I love a song if it gives me chills, and “Pain” brings them in spades. It boggles my mind that people are capable of writing and creating music as exquisite as this. The layered guitars and sparkling synths are so breathtaking, they bring tears to my eyes. And that deep, resonant bass line is fantastic. Lead singer Adam Granduciel’s vocals, which bear a striking resemblance to Bob Dylan’s, are brimming with a heartfelt urgency that touches the soul.

He told Q Magazine that “Pain” was inspired by the physical agony he endured from a ruptured disc. (Having suffered myself with intense pain from just a back sprain, I can empathize.) It’s one of several tracks on A Deeper Understanding where he touches on the excruciating experience. “I couldn’t sit to work and I couldn’t stand up to play guitar,” he said. “The idea of chronic pain and what it does to the mind is scattered throughout the songs.”

Go to bed now I can tell
Pain is on the way out now
Look away and domino falls away

I know it’s hard looking in
Knowing that tomorrow you’ll be back again
Pin your head and let me in
I’m waiting
So long

I was staring into the light
When I saw you in the distance, I knew that you’d be mine
Am I moving back in time
Just standing still

I met a man with a broken back
He had a fear in his eyes that I could understand
I can even shake the hand
When I break it in

I’ve been pulling on a wire, but it just won’t break
I’ve been turning up the dial, but I hear no sound
I resist what I cannot change
But I wanna find what can’t be found

I’m aware you’re tired and lost
Like a demon in the doorway, waiting to be born
But I’m here all alone, just begging

Pull me close and let me hold you in
Give me the deeper understanding of who I am
Yeah, I’m moving back again
I’m waiting here

I’m just pulling on a wire, but it just won’t break
I’ve been turning up the dial, but I hear no sound
I resist what I cannot change, own it in your own way
Yeah, I wanna find what can’t be found

The official video, directed by Emmett Malloy, shows the band performing the song as they float on a cargo ship down the Schuylkill River in their native Philadelphia.

100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #71: “Holding On” by The War on Drugs

The song at #71 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Holding On” by Philadelphia-based alternative rock band The War on Drugs. They’re quite honestly one of the best bands making music today, and I love their lush melodic sound that’s a beautiful mash-up of alternative, heartland rock, neo psychedelia and Americana. The band was formed by Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile in 2005, but Vile left after the completion of their first album to pursue his solo career. The band has undergone quite a few changes in lineup over the years, and now consists of the aforementioned Granduciel on guitar and lead vocals, David Harley on bass, Jon Natchez on sax & keyboards, Anthony LaMarca on guitar & keyboards, Robbie Bennett and piano, keyboards and guitar, and Charlie Hall on drums & organ.

I became a fan of The War on Drugs in 2014 after hearing their spectacular song “Red Eyes.” So it was natural that I’d love their beautiful song “Holding On” from their magnificent, critically-acclaimed and Grammy-winning 2017 album A Deeper Understanding. Having six band members, including three guitarists, three keyboardists, one of whom also plays sax, a bassist and a drummer, gives their music a full, almost orchestral sound. The piano, guitars, xylophone and synths on “Holding On” are breathtaking, and I love the powerful driving rhythms. Granduciel’s sublime vocals bear a striking resemblance to Bob Dylan on this and some of their other songs.

The song lyrics speak to the passage of time and how it allows a different perspective about a life-changing relationship that ultimately failed. The singer ponders as to whether he left the relationship too soon, or was it possible he held onto it longer than he should have – something many of us have probably wrestled with in less than happy relationships.

Ain’t no way I’m gonna last
Hiding in the seams, I can’t move the past
Feel like I’m about to crash
Riding the same line, I keep keeping on

And he never gonna change
He never gonna learn
I keep moving on the path, yeah
Holding on to mine

When you talk about the past
What are we talking of?
Did I let go too fast?
Was I holding on too long?

Here’s the official video for the song, featuring Granduciel and Frankie Faison:

And here’s a live performance without a visual storyline, which I almost prefer: