Montreal-based band Stars have always been a sort of a living contradiction for me. Musically, they are one of the more diverse indie-rock bands out there, drifting effortlessly between guitar driven rock, acoustic indie-folk and synth-laden electronica. But lyrically, they seem to be stuck in a rut of boy/girl romantic sentimentality that often slips into just plain sappiness—and the vocal interplay between co-leads Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, while cute, definitely feeds into this trend.
With their latest album The North, Stars lean overall toward their electronic side musically, and lyrically, they’ve dived into the sappy/romantic deep end of the pool. The end result is a record that frequently sounds like it time-traveled forward from eighty’s New-Wave-influenced pop, carrying a tinge of nineties synth-pop along for the ride. Think Human-League-meets-Shiny-Toy-Guns.
Now, if you like the Human League and Shiny Toy Guns, obviously, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In a day when retro is “in,” it’s not the unpardonable sin for a record to sound dated. For me, musically speaking, I happen to like a little bit of 80’s synth-pop with my indie rock, so consider this part of the review an observation rather than a critique. This is what the record sounds like; it is what it is. You like it or you don’t.
Where it sort of falls apart for me, as you might guess, is in the sappiness of the whole thing. On the one hand, you have the Romeo/Juliet fatalism of “Do You Want to Die Together?” (“I’ll love you till the day I die” / “So don’t die today, please don’t die today”), and on the other, the spite-tinged “A Song Is a Weapon” (“How can you keep a straight face when you’re telling all those lies”…I can only hope to kill you with a song.”). It all just smacks of melodrama.
Don’t get me wrong—like most people, I like romance, and I like love songs. But there’s the woo-the-girl, sweep-you-off-your-feet sentiments of a Tony Bennett (or One Direction and Justin Bieber, if you’re younger)—or hearing Ben Gibbard sing “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark”—and then there’s this. Whether they’re fighting or gushing over each other, the male-female co-vocal dynamic makes this feel like we’ve wiretapped a couple’s apartment or something, and we’re listening to them talk to each other about their relationship. I like a song about how the guy loves the girl, or vice versa. I don’t like watching a couple argue or make out. See the difference?
And so, with The North, Stars presents a rather unwelcome choice for me. Do I embrace the record for its catchy, synth-driven indie pop, or does the lyrical uber-sentimentality put me off?
You make your own choice. For me, I think I’d rather just go pull out the Human League again.