Conscious or not, the dogged influence who keep rearing their head on Wild Blood—the fourth LP from Nashville-by-way-of-Ohio indie rockers Lovedrug—are U2, whose famously delay-soaked arpeggios dominate anthems such as “Your Country” and “Revival” as mercilessly as they dominated The Unforgettable Fire back in 1984. And like that album, Wild Blood feels a little like a holding area for stadium-sized arrangements in search of stadium-sized hooks that only materialize in glimpses. But unlike that album, there’s an integrity to much of Lovedrug’s songwriting that too often gets lost in the wash of big rock presentation, a generic wall of distortion which does no favors for a voice whose quirky, organic slur has long been both its defining asset and its own worst enemy.
Like most take-’em-or-leave-’em singers, Michael Shepard’s pipes sound best when unapologetically embraced by the music. But too often on Wild Blood, its shimmery, bombastic production values make excuses on Shepard's behalf, smothering his voice with sugary reverb and pedestrian rock arrangements—thereby reducing it to a nondescript whine plagued by a series of tics. To that end, the highlight ends up being “Girl,” the disc’s lone acoustic number. The clear, unmitigated display of Shepard’s songwriting prowess has deceptively simple melodic ideas and affably earnest lyrics. When he sings, “If I had an aeroplane/I’d fly around in the morning rain/Just to find your shooting star,” he’s not merely believable, he’s damn likable. That’s no small feat in his line of work.
Little else on Wild Blood is as sustaining, but that doesn’t mean highlights aren’t still abundant in smaller doses. They come mainly in the verses, where spaces are filled more sparingly and melodies are approached with greater tact. “Premonition,” “Ladders” and “Great Divide” are all examples of great verses and pre-choruses ill-served by easy, booming refrains that undercut their respective eerie cinematic potentials. Only on the title track do Lovedrug manage a sing-along that packs the required wallop: “Are you crying out?/Do you follow me?/This wild blood/Will set us all free.” Definitely—but sometimes it would be nice if that wild blood was just a little wilder.