Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Raw Honey, the second album from Drugdealer.
Michael Collins — the brain behind the paisley pop of Drugdealer — emerged during Chillwave, that ’08-’11 microgenre of indie rock when every band had a hilarious name (Collins’ most popular one was named Salvia Plath) and when everything sounded like it was recorded from behind the scrambled static bars that used to appear on TVs when you tried to watch pay-per-view movies without paying for them. In 2016, Collins pivoted from the likes of Silk Rhodes and Run DMT to the more ambiguous name Drugdealer, and his album that year, The End Of Comedy, felt like a semi-turn toward whatever version of growing up is available for those of us under 35. End Of Comedy still expended a lot of haze around its poppier, more straight-ahead numbers, but nothing in Collins’ past properly set the table for Raw Honey, his second LP as Drugdealer, and first for Mexican Summer. All of the drug monologues and the fuzzy workouts of his past work has coalesced into this: an album that blends virtually every AOR band from 1973 into a new patchwork, a sonic palette that sounds both retro-leaning and unique to Drugdealer. It’s one of 2019’s most calming, sneakily great LPs.
It’s tempting to play reference Charades with virtually every song on Raw Honey, so let’s get that out of the way here. Yes, “Lonely” sounds like Badfinger after a night of drinking, and yes “Fools” sounds like Steely Dan fronted by Kenny Loggins. “Lost In My Dream” is like Harry Nilsson fronting a small marching band, while “Wild Motion” is like if George Jones sang yacht rock (thanks to country singer Doug Poole). And while fans of any of those artists will be able to see those seams, Raw Honey’s greatest strength is that it feels familiar without feeling overly referential. This is soft rock made with reverence, but not blind adherence.
The more winning sound might overshadow the strongest songwriting of Collins’ career, however. “Fools” is a meditation on leaving old scenes behind, and trying to resist the urge to light candles for that past version of yourself. “Not the same song you remember, you can try but it’s just plain wrong,” Collins sings like a modern James Taylor, wistfully reminding himself not to be a fool. Collins wrestles with self-doubt, stardom and fulfillment on the Weyes Blood-featuring “Honey,” and spends the five minutes of “If You Don’t Know Now, You Never Will” trying to parse how much of his own life is happening in his own head, and whether or not you can tell if love is “real” or not. Collins is working through neuroses and giving them the most beautiful packaging.
The way our musical economy works right now is that artists have little time to make a first impression: Their first album needs to be as perfect as possible so that they have a chance to make a second one. Collins’ arc — from a couple joke-heavy bands with bad names to a band making ironclad earnest soft rock — bucks that; Raw Honey is the album he’s been working toward, in some manner or another, for 10 years.
Andrew Winistorfer is Vinyl Me, Please’s Classics and Country Director, and an editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need In Your Collection and The Best Record Stores In The United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 20 VMP releases, and co-produced Nat Turner Rebellion's Laugh to Keep From Crying. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.