“The North” – Stars

4 stars (out of 5)

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Product Details5 piece Canadian band Stars are now onto their sixth studio album, “The North”, which is the follow up to 2010’s in part lacklustre “The Five Ghosts” (even the weakest Stars album contains at least a handful of fantastic songs). There’s something very British and very old fashioned about the Stars although they have never had commercial success in this country and there’s no reason why that should change now. They sound like a look of bands that were big in UK pop around the late eighties (The Smiths are actually referred to on the final track ‘The Wall’ and Saint Etienne may want some of their middle eights back) and favour the male/female verse-sharing most effectively employed by The Human League along with the same predominantly electronic soundscape and they can be pretty broad.  Don’t think Crystal Castles more say The Beautiful South without the whimsy, on occasion at least; Stars are pretty hung up on nostalgia.

Opening track “The Theory Of Relativity” confidently sets the 1988 drum machine rolling and the union of Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell is fully established and intact by the minute and a half mark; it’s a glorious one and the ‘a warm standing ovation please for the dude who sold us ecstasy, he’s building homes now in the new third world’ line confirms the usual themes of past and present, suburbia versus the city with the man-child struggling with the overdue burden of adulthood,  like a slightly less depressed and analytical Arcade Fire. On the similar “Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It” you can’t help but hear New Order, but both songs hold their own without being pastiches. It’s the only time that something so big musically is attempted therefore making the second half of the album more introverted and complex and this is boosted a great deal by the solo tracks handled by Amy Millan, which seems like a realisation by the band that she should be given more songs as each album passes. She handles both the jangly warmth of “Backlines” and the chippy, flinty cool of “Progress” impeccably, not a major voice but an extremely affecting one.

The centre of the album is presented almost as a suite of 3 tracks that bleed into each other beginning with the fatalistic 1950’s strum of “Do You Want To Die Together?” which collapses into the Cyndi Lauperish “Lights Changing Colour” and then the blurry ambience of “The Loose Ends Will Make Knots” with it’s disconcerting, underlining synth line,  ghostly reminiscent of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. It demonstrates how this band have matured and can now allow themselves some breathing space in between all of the intensity.

Stars’ masterpiece is generally considered to be 2005’s “Set Yourself On Fire” which is a much more full bodied, bombastic album than “The North” but I think I prefer this direction; the small but careful details (the string arrangement of Backlines is so intricate and beautiful) have paid off and encourage you to come back time and again noticing new elements on each new listen. If you don’t own anything else by the group then pick this up, it’s a perfect representation of some of their best work to date and will help keep you in warm in the forthcoming months.