Inhaler: Cuts & Bruises [Album Review]

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Cuts & Bruises
Geffen Records [2023]

The first thing anyone is going to tell you about Irish band Inhaler is that the band’s singer and rhythm guitarist is Elijah Hewson, the son of U2’s Bono, and the minute you have that information it’s almost impossible not to hear the vocal similarities. What all the debates about nepotism (#nepobaby) can’t and won’t resolve, however, is Hewson’s naturally attractive singing voice, which yes, unavoidably, is very similar to that of his father. But more importantly, it overlooks that Hewson and his friends, Robert Keating on bass and Ryan McMahon on drums, first started a band together when they were just 12 and 13 years old, and guitarist Josh Jenkinson joined up just 3 years later; in other words, some Irish mates who’ve already been making music together for nearly a decade. Further, they released their early self-titled EP while touring in 2019-’20, followed by their debut in 2021, It Won’t Always Be Like This, entering the Irish and UK album charts at number one.

So, since it would be impossible to escape the comparisons to that other Irish band, we can say at the outset that Inhaler is far more of a pop music endeavor from the get-go than U2 was in ’80 and ’81 when they released Boy and October. That band was far more experimental at the time, making it up as they went, imitating punk and alternative rockers of the time and influenced by Echo & the Bunnymen, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Television; the fact that “I Will Follow” actually sounds like a pop song to our ears these days is no doubt because U2 ended up changing the vocabulary of what qualifies as pop. Inhaler is coming of age 4 decades later, and pop music isn’t what it used to be.

The best glimpse of Inhaler’s earlier sound shows up late in their 11-song sophomore effort, Cuts & Bruises, a song they say played a lot live back in 2017-’18, which has more of a live band sound, “Dublin in Ecstasy,” perhaps the song here that most recalls Hewson’s father’s band. Jenkinson has a solid guitar sound, and McMahon and Keating deliver a solid foundation and work with him to give the band a full, spirited sound. The band’s newer songs have their fingers on the pulse of modern pop with singles like “These Are The Days” and “Love Will Get You There,” which plumb the deep wells of 80’s new wave electro-dance pop sonically, with updated, punchier rhythms, and the kind of anthemic, sing-along choruses meant to bring a stadium crowd to its feet. “If You’re Gonna Break My Heart,” is a heartbreaker of a ballad in the vein of U2, sure to spark an arena full of iPhone flashlights to provide the required ambiance to get the crowd swaying in unison as they sing along.

Cuts & Bruises is front loaded with dynamic pop rock aimed at what ever passes for radio airplay success these days. The album’s opener, “Just to Keep You Satisfied,” is an understated rocker that blows up with a great guitar driven chorus, and a fun, noisy break that doubles as a guitar solo just to keep things interesting. Most of the lyrics here are about love, well, young love, party anthems filled with life and hope, and the kind of longing to make a big impact on the world that you’d expect from a songwriter in their early 20’s. Inhaler describes its music using a term borrowed from English roots rocker Sam Fender, who they’ve opened for, “alternative pop,” but I think they can leave off the “alternative.”

Songs like “Valentine” and “The Things I Do” on the album’s back half, do little more than act as filler, but don’t detract from the excitement they produce out of the gate. The band’s potential to land pop hits with songs like “These Are the Days,” whatever that means these days, is very strong, and given that they have opening slots later in the year with the likes of Harry Styles and Arctic Monkeys, suggests Inhaler is going to have a chance to grow artistically as they continue to develop a sound they can truly call their own. At this point, these ambitious Irish lads are off to a solid start, making pop music worthy of our attention and genuinely artful in its own right. It’s nice to know that the kids are going to be alright.

“These Are The Days” / “Just To Keep You Satisfied” / “Dublin In Ecstacy”

The 1975 / Sam Fender / U2

Official Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Bandcamp | Geffen Records

Brian Q. Newcomb

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1 thought on “Inhaler: Cuts & Bruises [Album Review]”

  1. I absolutely love the sound of this band. I agree 1000% that it reminds me of the 80’s music (which I always loved). I admit that as a fan of U2 since 1981 when I was 11 years old, wanting to listen to Inhaler because of the connection, am so entranced by this band’s music that it makes me feel the same way I felt in 1981 when I first listened to U2. That feeling of much the music resonates with me and the joy it brings me down to my soul listening giving me the very best natural high as music tends to do. I think Inhaler has proven they can do this all on their own without having to ride any coattails from my very favorite band U2! I can’t wait to see them live when they come to Chicago again!

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