Stars - The Five Ghosts

by Pete Sykes Rating:5 Release Date:2010-06-21

Canadian indie-popsters Stars have a habit on their albums of walking the fine line between simple, eloquent, moving songs, and unbearable schmaltz and sentimentality. Their last two records, Set Yourself on Fire and In Our Bedroom After the War, had some wretchedly squirmy bits sitting alongside gorgeous, beautifully written pop gems, notably 'Reunion' and 'Take Me to the Riot'. The Five Ghosts continues this trend, but it's weaker than those earlier albums: pedestrian, wanting of decent tunes and, for most of its running time, glum and lethargic.

There is a smattering of good stuff here. 'Fixed', is totally gorgeous, a lush synth-led slice of vaguely romantic fluff. It's not revolutionary, but it is lovely, and it features a guitar solo lifted straight from Peter Hook's New Order collection. 'How Much More' is similarly pleasing, and similarly retro, and 'Wasted Daylight' is diverting, if not particularly memorable. But sadly these fairly nice songs are outweighed by dross. Most upsetting is the horrible 'We Don't Want Your Body'; it sees Amy Millan cooing "I don't want your baaa-dy" and rhyming "ecstasy" with "sex with me" like she's Britney Spears or something. At best it's misjudged, at worst excruciating; the song is marginally redeemed by ending after three-and-a-half-minutes with a synth chord stolen from Belle & Sebastian's 'Electric Renaissance'.

Now, if a song like that had been done with a smattering of wit and irony it might have been fun, but Stars are so ludicrously po-faced and dramatic about everything. This can work extremely well - as on the Japan-ish 'He Dreams He's Awake' here - but unless it's done exactly right, things can misfire quite badly. 'The Last Song Ever Written' could have been a neat, amusing concept, but instead is a dirgey tramp wholly unenlivened by songwriter and lead singer Torquil Campbell's dreary lyrics and overwrought delivery. 'I Died So I Could Have You' is similarly overblown and melodramatic (perhaps a result of Campbell's background as an actor - no offence intended to actors). Elsewhere, tedium is the order of the day, as slowie 'Changes', 'The Passenger' and closer 'Winter Bones' are all equally soporific.

If Campbell were reading this review, he'd no doubt accuse me of being too snarky and failing to appreciate his heartfelt songs (and also probably of being a virgin, as he did the unfortunate Pitchfork writer who gave In Our Bedroom After the War a good but not totally glowing write-up). But I'm not a cold-hearted cynic who values irony above all else; I just like a bit of wit and insight in my pop lyrics and Campbell, by constantly reaching for heart-rending tales of dead or departed lovers, is instead wholly maudlin and depressing. It's a shame, because Stars sure know how to write a pop song, and there are two excellent and two enjoyable tracks here; maybe they should concentrate on producing those and stop trying to be deep and meaningful.

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