How To Replace It by dEUSRelease date: February 17, 2023
Belgian rockers dEUS are back again with How To Replace It, their first new music in over 10 years. I’m old enough to recall hearing the wheezing violins that made breakthrough single ‘Suds & Soda’ so memorable. I’d keep a minimal interest in the band over the years indulging in their 1994 debut Worst Case Scenario, skipping the next release, then returning to 1999’s The Ideal Crash and I’m pretty sure 2008’s Vantage Point resides in the attic somewhere. Nowadays the only original members left in the band are frontman/guitarist Tom Barman and Klaas Janzoons, who unfortunately appears to have hung up his fiddle. They are also now joined by some very capable musicians in drummer Stéphane Misseghers, bassist Alan Gevaert and guitarist Mauro Pawlowski.
Opener ‘How To Replace It’ builds with a simmering tension over thunderous kettle drums. It’s a dramatic and cinematic opener that takes a few listens to sink in, the layered instrumentation is richly textured. This is then followed up with lead track ‘Must Have Been New’, which is a swinging belter of a tune that absolutely hooked me in from the get-go. Breezing along with a confident swagger the band sound energised and vibrant. The hooks slip and slide and bury their way into your ears. ‘Never Get You High’ is similarly paced with a lovely rolling groove and some dexterous percussive elements. The production is superb with lush instrumentation adding an appealing depth and each listen brings new sounds.
‘Man Of The House’ finds Tom channel some Michael Hutchence over a throbbing bass synth tone and it sounds filthy. ‘1989’ could actually have been created in 1989, the glossy sounds akin to the likes of ABC or Duran Duran. Once again, the smooth instrumentation and melodies flow with ease, and Tom dips into Leonard Cohen depths with his voice. In ‘Faux Bamboo’ snippy drums pop and clatter while the band roll out a shimmering mix of jaggy guitars and liquid synths. The chorus is ultra-catchy and summery, bringing a glorious rush, despite the melancholic edge.
For the most part, the album is an intriguing and enjoyable listen, but for me, the quality lessens typically depending on Tom’s vocal delivery. The ponderous ‘Dream Is A Giver’ features half spoken, half sung vocals, that verge on rap at times. I have to call this out as not something I find particularly appealing. The chorus barely registers with me either, not reaching the same levels as some of the better tracks. ‘Simple Pleasures’ is a kooky blitz of weird, warped tones in the search for a groove, Tom raps again and it really turns me off. The track seems determined to be something clever, but it merely irritates this listener. ‘Pirates’ rolls along in a jazzy haze, but I find it fade to background music even when I try to stay with it. Finally, ‘Why You Think It Over (Cadillac)’ clumsily rumbles along with tumbling drums and angular guitars that mercifully subside in the chorus for a fuzzy synth buzz. I can’t help but apply the word sophisticated to describe what I’m hearing, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.
As the album winds to a close, ‘Love Breaks Down’ appears as the lone ballad and it’s something I would have liked more of. Based on a melancholic piano motif, the verse brings down the feels before the uplifting beautiful chorus with soothing strings that compliment Tom’s tender vocals to stunning effect. Album closer ‘Le Blues Polaire’ has Tom adding a new spin to the talk-style vocals by doing them in French. The band recreate some fine chamber pop in the vein of The Dears and as the track builds with fuzzy blazing guitars, it transforms into a splendidly arranged piece of intelligent pop.
I selected this album based purely on the strength of ‘Must Have Been New’ and a curiosity to hear from a band that I haven’t paid any attention to since 2008. My overall impression of the album is that the band have created an impressive sounding album with excellent instrumentation, but the song quality doesn’t match for the most part. Tom’s voice is much like one of his influences, Tom Waits, either a delight or hard to digest. dEUS have certainly matured with age and this album’s strength is more to do with the luscious arrangements, though there are some great songs too.