Inhaler Surges Into Bloom: “Cuts & Bruises” Album Review


Almost two years after their 2021 debut album It Won’t Always Be Like This, Inhaler released Cuts & Bruises on February 17, a confident step in the right direction for the rising Irish rock band. It Won’t Always Be Like This is an impressive, tightly-wound portrait of young artists breaking big in the middle of a pandemic, reflecting their uncertainty about the future of the world and the future of their band. Cuts & Bruises allows for more breathing room – the looser, evolving journey of an untethered band looking back to move forward.

Inhaler’s power comes from their experimental sound, led on this album by Josh Jenkinson’s guitar. Often blending in with lead singer Elijah Hewson’s own strings, the duo creates fresh yet familiar riffs that shine through each song. However, it is Ryan McMahon’s drums and Robert Keating’s bass that ground the songs – the latter especially a force on the single “If You’re Gonna Break My Heart,” showing off his choral backing vocals. Another pleasant addition is the funky Brian Eno-esque noises that sprinkle the album, such as the electronic chirps and crashes in the bridge of “Just To Keep You Satisfied.”

Each of the eleven songs seem to take on a different genre. “So Far So Good” feels like a nostalgic 2000’s alternative hit, “If You’re Gonna Break My Heart” is an electronica indie country song, the groove of “The Things I Do” has a tinge of R&B. The band’s influences often meld into their sound. They spoke of being heavily inspired by Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary on the Beatles, as well as American bands they listened to as they toured the country – Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, The Band. Yet all these sounds blend into one: the distinction of Inhaler.

Cuts & Bruises’s story follows the band reflecting on the duality of their lives as they venture out into the world: on tour and in themselves.

Cuts & Bruises’s story follows the band reflecting on the duality of their lives as they venture out into the world: on tour and in themselves. The themes of split personality from It Won’t Always Be Like This’s “My Honest Face” continue into Cuts & Bruises. “I couldn’t face the faces in my personality,” Hewson sings. “You can’t say I lost myself if you don’t know me at all.” This is an ode to the band still trying to find out who they want to be, as artists and as people, facing the world together since childhood. A standout on the album, “Dublin in Ecstasy,” fuses these ideas of past and future. It’s one of their oldest songs, reserved as an unreleased tune for live shows until fans begged them to release a studio version.

The journey of a relationship also grounds the album. Songs like “If You’re Gonna Break My Heart,” “Perfect Storm,” and “Valentine” follow the narrator and an unnamed other as they move through the challenges of remaining in love. “I need you on good days / And on the bad ones too,” Hewson sings on “Valentine.” “They say you’re hard to pleasе but / I’ll still give myself to you.” As he told VMAN Magazine, “The whole point of Cuts & Bruises is that they’re only a few scratches. It’s an album about relationships which have ups and downs. But we’re coming out on the other side, and we’re not missing arms, legs, or anything. We’ve just got a few scars to show for it.”

One thing to look forward to as Inhaler develops is Hewson’s lyrics growing into their full potential. They’re either hit or miss, but they never detract from a song’s quality. If they’re just alright, they blend into his airy vocals and become another instrument. “Love Will Get You There” and “When I Have Her On My Mind” prove to be quality sonically, but ultimately don’t have much depth in their subjects. There are several Inhaler songs that also have this phenomenon, where the purpose of what Hewson is trying to express is vague and impactless. If the lyrics are exceptional, they elevate songs to new heights, such as on “Perfect Storm” – the song that centers Cuts & Bruises’s recurring lyrical theme of tides and waves, symbolizing the changes the band is experiencing in their career and lives.

At its core, Cuts & Bruises is an album of joy. Lead single “These Are the Days” is an anthem of elation, when you’re having the time of your life with the people closest to you. “These are the days that follow you home,” cheers the soaring chorus. “These are the days that kiss you on your broken nose / These are the days I don’t miss the feeling of being alone / These are the days.” 

Inhaler will only continue to flourish as they continuously evolve in their musical journey, with one key theme weaving throughout their work: you can make it through all the trials and complexities of life without losing the thrill of living along the way.

Inhaler is performing at the House of Blues in Boston on March 18.