Stars StarsThe Five Ghosts
One symptom that you are getting older is that hits stop having an impact on the first listen, and you start to evaluate the context with greater intensity. So that we understand each other: you are definitely getting older when you listen to Rihanna ’s “ Umbrella” for the first time and your first reaction is to feel embarrassed for the chick who’s repeating “ ela ela ela,” like an idiot. The same conclusion is reached here, but from an opposite direction: you’re getting older when you hit the repeat on “ Kids” by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy so that you can catch the subtleties of his sublime verses. But don’t let anybody think that by this reasoning, pop is relegated to superficiality and that other genres have a greater depth. Neil Hannon has been making sublime extensions to the rooms of his chamber pop castle where it is now easy to lose yourself. Something similar happens with Stars. In the case of these Canadians, however, although the musical surface remains stuck to the layout of classic-sounding pop-rock (more pop than rock), it’s clear that they tear down the walls of their songs-rooms by way of the lyrics. They reached their peak with “ Life 2: The Unhappy Ending” included on their previous “In Our Bedroom After The War” (Arts & Crafts, 2007), where they did an excellent job with a song in the form of a film script, with the air of a love story told in a noir key. On this occasion, “The Five Ghosts” once again brings together a group of tremendous lyrics, among which “ We Don’t Want Your Body” stands out, a burst of machine-gun fire that Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan use to give a resounding smack on the side of the head to the generation that comes up behind them that use their hypersexuality as a tool for communication and, especially, as a lever for achieving notoriety.
While waiting for Stars to clarify where the title of their latest work comes from, it’s not hard to let your imagination fly and think that the “ five ghosts” are the ghosts of the five sins that have always wandered like lost souls through their songs: love, falling out of love, lust, melancholy and disappointment. In the first five songs, these spectres are having a ghostly celebration after having a few too many drinks, while in the final section, the ectoplasms start to fade from their own sadness (which more or less means that the rise predominates in the beginning and the fall at the end). The count of memorable moments on “The Five Ghosts” far exceeds that of “In Our Bedroom after the War,” where Stars undertook a megalomaniac job that failed more often than is usual for one of their albums. But now we can say it: “The Five Ghosts”, although it doesn’t live up to the magnanimous “Set Yourself on Fire” (Arts & Crafts, 2005), does comes within a fingertip’s reach of the ghosts of that album.
“ Dead Hearts” opens the album by giving us goose pimples, with the aid of lyrics that ooze sadness (“It’s hard to know that you still care / Dead hearts are everywhere”) and a perverse lullaby melody with a piano and viola base that explodes in a chorus that sends a chill down your spine. Some of the best of the Stars’ career. Then come the highs, and the lows are scarce. “ I Died So I Could Haunt You” and “ Fixed” hark back to “Set Yourself On Fire” in their structure, with a crescendo that leads the standard pop towards a grand finale of guitars pumped with vitamins and percussion pumped with minerals that remind you of a band from their generation, Metric. The aforementioned “ We Don’t Want Your Body” is the band’s new high point, which joins the fattest beats of electro pop to a synthesised clavichord to draw attention away from the dark lyrics (“Sleep now and dream of who you’ll be / But will you actually be anyone?”). “ Changes” looks to the pop of Fleetwood Mac and co. so that, when Millan sings, “I’ve never been good with change,” you exclaim out loud, “You don’t say!” “ The Last Song Ever Written” resorts to the mist of a gloomy synthesiser to embroider a song that would taste of a sweet ending if it didn’t have “ How Much More” tagged onto it at the end, ratifying that the vital signs of the band’s usual sounds are still strong and healthy. That’s what the album is like.
I welcome each birthday if getting old means embracing three-dimensional pop like that of “The Five Ghosts”, which adds both height and breadth. Stars still haven’t done anything innovative: they haven’t discovered a new continent, but nor is that their intention. Their songs are paradise islands offering a good vacation to those who aren’t easily impressed, and to premature grandfathers whose cheeks people used to pinch, saying, “ay this little boy, who looks like an old man.”
Raül De Tena
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