Inhaler‘s debut album, It Won’t Always Be Like This, was named after one of their earliest singles and one of the best albums of 2021. Perhaps I’m biased as the CD has resided in the first slot in my car’s CD player since I got it, but how could they possibly follow up a near-perfect debut?
Cuts & Bruises is the sophomore outing by the band. It’s hard to follow such a great debut, but Inhaler’s hasn’t remained stagnant and has continued evolving their sound beyond just sounding like Joy Division and The Smiths for the 21st century. They channel a lot more Sting/The Police and even early U2 in Cuts & Bruises. If there’s one thing that the group was right about, it would be that it won’t always be like this and their sophomore album puts that on full display.
Three singles were released during the promotion of the album. “These Are the Days” was first released in June of last year; making it the perfect summertime jam. It’s like a more polished version of a Colony House song and is home to one of Eli Hewson’s most confident vocal tracks — just hear the “comin’ up on something sweet” line or the Chris Martin-like falsetto on “Valentine.”
Inhaler, and specifically songwriter Hewson, can also slow it down when they want. As “Totally” did on the previous album, “If You’re Gonna Break My Heart” is the band’s slowest ballad since “Oklahoma (Late Night Version)” and “I Want You.” It’s a tender tune that shows that Hewson has the sensibilities of his father.
“If You’re Gonna Break My Heart,” the third single off Cuts & Bruises, is the ultimate song for live audiences to sway to as they hold their loved ones close a la the aforementioned “Totally”; although admittedly, the chorus isn’t quite as catchy as “Why does it hurt so much?” But it’s really hard to imagine live audiences not eating this song up whenever they play it on their current tour.
The young Hewson’s songwriting ability has continued to evolve over the years along with his voice. There’s nothing as cheesy as “I fucking hate that bitch” found on Cuts & Bruises, and it’s clear that this band has grown and continued to come into their own as adults since their first album. And while much of Inhaler’s sound leading up to this album channeled the spirit of Joy Division, it was a treat to see that they directly reference one of their songs in Cuts & Bruises’ final track, “Now You Got Me” when Hewson croons the line, “love won’t tear us apart” (Fun fact: Inhaler has covered Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”).
I’d also argue that Inhaler channels their inner Joy Division on one of the Cuts & Bruises‘ many standout tracks, “Dublin in Ectascy.” What begins with a combination of “Totally’s” ambient noises, and then the fast-beating drums of “When it Breaks” from their debut album quickly becomes a lot like Joy Division or even U2’s early songs “A Cat Dubh” and “A Day Without Me” once the shrieking guitar comes in.
There’s also a bit of Snow Patrol in some of these songs as there’s a slight increase in piano on these tracks. For example, the soft piano notes on “Perfect Storm” are reminiscent of “Chasing Cars.” “The Things I Do” is driven by the piano as well. These parts were presumably played by Louis Lambert, the underrated man of the group who brings everything together during their live performances with his piano and synthesizer playing.
Growth is also found in the pacing of this album. Like a film, you have to find the balance between foot-stomping arena rockers and slower ballads. In the case of Cuts & Bruises, it appears that Inhaler learned from some of the hiccups that their first album had. The ending of “When it Breaks” doesn’t quite segue well into “Who’s Your Money On? (Plastic House),” and it would’ve benefitted greatly by swapping places with “Slide Out My Window,” which has a similar psychedelic vibe as “Who’s Your Money On? (Plastic House)”. On Cuts & Bruises, the album’s first two tracks — “Just to Keep You Satisfied” and “Love Will Get You There — carry the spirit of Sting sound. “So Far, So Good” has an alternative feel that fits perfectly with the following track, “These Are the Days” and “If You’re Gonna Break My Heart” and “Perfect Storm” perfectly complement one another as the two slower songs on the album.
But Inhaler is not just the Eli Hewson show. Josh Jenkinson is always game for a riff that’s as effective as it is simple. Bassist Robert Keating is a bit more subdued on this album — never reaching the heights of “In My Sleep” or having the chance to drive a song as he did on “Who’s Your Money On? (Plastic House” — but has always stood out on every listen of “These Are the Days.”
The highlight of any Inhaler live performance is undoubtedly drummer Ryan McMahon. The whole band is tight, but McMahon is such a reliable drummer much like Stewart Copeland, but he can turn the dial up when needed as heard on tracks like “When it Breaks” from their first album or “When I Have Her On My Mind” from Cuts & Bruises.
If Greta Van Fleet is here to save 70s rock-and-roll, Inhaler is here to save 80s punk. Unlike Greta Van Fleet’s sophomore full-length album, Inhaler followed up their stellar debut album, It Won’t Always Be Like This, with an album that almost reaches the heights of what came before (plus, there are no 10-minute songs to be found). The album is an effort to scale back from the broad scope of subject matter that Inhaler’s debut album touched on. They do that tenfold and bring an even more intimate album that feels like it was written as they were experiencing their first big exposure in 2021 and 2022. There’s a loss of innocence and gain of experience that took place over the past few years, and Inhaler is all the better for it. They say the sequel’s never as good as the original, but Inhaler could make the case with Cuts & Bruises.
Cuts & Bruises is available now.