A War on Everything
The Glorious Sons’ 2017 sophomore release Young Beauties and Fools was a total game-changer for the Kingston, Ontario, outfit, catapulting them from one of Canada’s most promising rock bands to one of its biggest. Sold-out clubs turned into arenas, and word of mouth gave way to JUNO statuettes and domination of the Canadian airwaves—with a stack of Top 10 singles under their belts (and some encouraging chart success on rock radio south of the border). So when the time came to start thinking about recording a follow-up…well, actually, in between relentless touring, there wasn’t really any time to think about recording a follow-up. It just sort of happened.
“We had just come off a headlining tour of Canada, and it was our first time playing arenas, and we just hit a high on that tour,” frontman Brett Emmons tells Apple Music. “After playing for two hours every night, I was getting up and drinking like six cups of coffee and writing tons of songs, and I kind of felt a little bit invincible. We made a decision on that tour where we were like, ‘We’re going to get right into the studio and capitalize on this momentum.’”
The band's biggest hit to date, “S.O.S.,” is a rousing feel-good anthem about losing your job and getting addicted to Oxycontin. A War on Everything heightens the tension between entertainment and inner torment at the heart of The Glorious Sons' sound. On the opening “Panic Attack,” the first words we hear Emmons sing are ”I want to be normal/I want to be sane/I want to look at you and feel something other than pain”—but they’re delivered with a stomping drum beat and skyscraping chorus that transform his psychosis into celebration. And while the album title may judder with geopolitical implications—with lines like “I’m worried about white kids carrying guns” (“Wild Eyes”) seemingly ripped from the headlines—the romantic, open-road escapism of the title track invites a more personal interpretation. “It’s about being overstimulated and feeling detached from the things you consider to be the real things in your life,” says Emmons. “We’re just being bombarded by information at all times.”
That inner struggle reaches its fever pitch on “Pink Motel,” a ’70s-scale piano ballad where Emmons grapples with the realization that all the spoils of being a successful touring musician don’t mean a thing if there’s no one to come home to. After a slow, stately build, the song erupts into an improvised, throat-shredding climax—“I don’t care about anything at all but you!/Fuck the cars and the money!/Fuck all the trappings and the lifestyle!”—where the singer effectively tears the bruised heart out of his chest and offers it up for a permanent blood pact. “That comes straight from personal experience,” Emmons says. “It’s me pleading with someone to look inward rather than outward to solve our problems. It’s basically just like puking on paper!”
But for all the intense introspection on display, A War on Everything hardly skimps on the sort of pint-spilling barn-burners—like the Foo Fighters-style quiet-to-loud surge of “A Funny Thing Happened” and the swampy Black Keys groove of “One More Summer”—that have made The Glorious Sons the biggest band to break out of Kingston since the hallowed Tragically Hip. That said, for all their old-school affinities, Emmons isn't interested in seeing his band held up as the saviors of rock. The soul-shaking power pop of “The Ongoing Speculation Into the Death of Rock and Roll,” with its playful shots at the “trust fund kid with Lennon glasses,” makes their stance on the subject clear: Rock doesn’t need to be saved, it just needs to be less safe. “I think the alternative music scene kind of turned into this acoustic-pop thing, full of guys that Noel Gallagher would say are holding their guitar and not playing anything at all,” Emmons says. “It’s become vanilla, which it never was supposed to be. The song is not necessarily about the death of rock ’n’ roll—I wouldn’t be playing this music and beating my chest for rock ’n’ roll if I thought it was dead. But there’s a reason why there’s not as much integrity in rock radio anymore—and this song is about getting to the bottom of that.”