Drugstore kicks off its debut album with “Speaker 12,” a letter-and-‘tude-perfect imitation (but for the breathy enthusiasm of Brazilian-born bassist Isabel Monteiro’s singing) of early three-chord Jesus and Mary Chain singles, but then has a struggle to better the seductive charm of that track on the 13 that follow. (Although the sizzling stutter of “Fader” comes close.) The London trio brings a bit more to the counter than just a familiar prescription, but the dance beats, wispy melodies and sudden landslides of Daron Robinson’s guitar distortion make it hard to hear much originality here. Monteiro’s songs occasionally venture beyond the sound of re-Reidings, or, at least, the arrangements do: the gentle piano tinkles of “If,” the surly Crampsy kick of “Devil,” the Liz Phair-like spareness of “Saturday Sunset” and the building drama of “Baby Astrolab” are good cases in point. Still, Drugstore keeps returning to the reliable J&M home remedy. Things could be worse.
Monteiro found her own voice on White Magic for Lovers and, in the process, created a small masterpiece of expatriate blues. The opening “Say Hello” (“to all the junkies, all the sinners and the creeps”) is a ringing tribute of Bukowskian dimensions to the world’s disenfranchised. Monteiro’s impassioned vocals and Robinson’s judiciously applied guitar flourishes are buoyed by a festive horn section, amply demonstrating that Drugstore has arrived at a new plateau in their development. The swaggering “Mondo Cane” finds the band rocking in its own right, free from obvious J&M touchstones. Elsewhere, the group pauses for reflection, a contemplative mood inflecting “Sober,” its soaring chorus locating hope in a thousand empty bottles of booze. Optimism in the eye of the storm anchors “I Know I Could” and “White Magic for Lovers,” the former supported by the longing strains of a violin. Thom Yorke joins Monteiro on the single “El President,” an impassioned, if obscure, plea for understanding. “I Don’t Wanna Be Here Without You,” meanwhile, serves up a savory dish of salsa rhythms tied to a sweetly infectious pop ode that finds Monteiro in splendid mood and ace songwriting form. The entire affair is capped off by “The Funeral (But Most of All),” a cheeky and jubilant send-off that utilizes a sing-songy chorus and circus keyboards to intoxicating effect. Dying never sounded so fun.
Songs for the Jet Set, which lacks the second album’s playful spirit, is more resolutely thoughtful. “Baby Don’t Hurt Yourself” sets the mood; pedal steel guitar evoking the poetic longing of a life lived at the edge of civilization. “Navegando” has an elegiac spirit that infects the serene guitars and resigned refrain (“Save me, I’m so tired of running around”), while the carefully framed emotions of “Hate” are neatly contained by piano and mandolin. If such restraint stretches “Wayward Daughter” to the point of vanishing, tracks like “Little Girl” relocate the album’s heartbeat, building a touching tribute to youthful exuberance around a wistful melody and swirling cello. The punch-drunk lust fest “I Wanna Love You Like a Man” erupts in the midst of Songs for the Jet Set like a delayed transmission from White Magic. Otherwise, the band plays it soft and relaxed, making the album an ideal morning-after soundtrack.