Few bands have the skill and musicianship to be able to make listeners feel their melodrama. Even fewer bands have what it takes to make a career out of doing so. Since 2000, Canada’s Stars have been one of those few. After listening to the 2005 masterpiece, Set Yourself on Fire, it was clear to me that I was listening to a unique and special band. The kind of band that has the power to make beautiful, majestic and lush anthems, all while trying their hardest to break your heart (which they often succeeded in doing). On each of their previous releases, Stars have used their exaggerated emotions and brilliance in storytelling to convey a feeling that most artists can’t do nearly as well. Horns, shoegazed guitars, vibrant synths and larger-than-life strings helped intimate the amount of sentiment felt in the process of writing each song. Also, without the sometimes playful and sometimes painful interactions of Torquil Campbell’s hammy voice and Amy Millan’s breathy, sweet elegance, the band might not have turned as many heads as they have. Every talent of every member of the band is vital to their success.
Unfortunately though, Stars fifth studio release, The Five Ghosts, sounds somewhat insincere and slightly lost. The first thing that was notably different was the length of the album. The 11 tracks that pass by in just 38 minutes doesn’t quite lend itself to the large scale epics and heart wrenching tales that fans are used to from the Canadian outfit. The songs seem rushed, running to a destination that is never made clear to the listener. The effectiveness of the melodrama is thwarted when the songs fit the form of just another indie pop band. Not surprisingly though, one big positive of the album is Millan’s delicate vocals, which fit perfectly amidst the upbeat pop filling the album.
Now, I realize that this review is making The Five Ghosts sound really, really bad. It isn’t. There are a few tracks scattered about that are worth listening to more than a few times. “We Don’t Want Your Body” is a mix between a pop gem straight from the late 90’s and “new-new-wave.” Heavy synths play background to Millan and Campbell as they make it clear they aren’t easy to get in the sack.
Similarly, “Changes” lends itself to simple synth-led pop while Millan does most of the heavy lifting. Her voice is so tender, sweet and broken; she makes it hard to not feel a bit bummed by the end. Though different from other Stars singles, the tracks mood most closely resembles their previous work.
When it comes right down to it though, The Five Ghosts is not on par with other Stars releases. If they were most other bands, this album would probably be highly touted. Such is the case though; more is expected out of a band that has proven their genius through almost their entire musical career. One can only hope this is just a slight misstep in a career that still has many more wonderful moments to come.