Seasons come and seasons go, just as do members of Canada’s Anglophile bombast rockers The Dears. Their fifth album sees the core membership of singer and songwriter Murray Lightburn and his wife Natalia Yanchak augmented this time around by four other members.
Although he’s left behind the orchestral pop noir sound of The Dears’ early years, and these days relies largely on keyboards and guitars, Lightburn still seems far more fond of overstatement than understatement, and shows a definite preference for dense arrangements. This perhaps begs questions about the wisdom of recording an album in Montreal and sending it to your producer (Tony Hoffer) for mixing in Los Angeles. So much for a producer getting the best performance out of an artist, and giving instant feedback.
Degeneration Street has more than its fair share of catchy hooks, and the usual Dears trademarks of stylistic diversity, with plenty of obvious pop references from the 60s to the 90s. It will no doubt go down well at their famously torrid live shows, and will probably be popular with drivers. Just don’t expect much in the way of subtlety, humour or lyrics that stand up to much analysis in a home listen context. Lightburn may have often been compared to Morrissey, but it’s much more for his vocal tone than any strong sense of irony or wit.
Opening cut Omega Dog finds Lightburn adopting a falsetto croon that makes him sound like Curtis Mayfield fronting Ultravox, before segueing stylishly into the suspenseful Arcade Fire-in-Motown rush of 5 Chords. It’s the first example of the power and inventiveness of drummer Jeff Luciani, who is at his most energetic on Yesteryear, which also draws on a skipping tempo typical of fare on Berry Gordy’s famous label.
The other references are mostly British, from the Pulp-goes-glam drive of Thrones, through a couple of shameless Radiohead rip-offs (Galactic Tides, Unsung) to the Hollies-style backing vocals that crop up on Lamentation and elsewhere. The frenzied Stick W/ Me Kid is fuelled by the kind of paranoia that Muse have made a trademark, but apparently without the tongue-in-cheek humour. By the time you get to the rare calm of the title-track (Damon Albarn does Pink Floyd) you’ll probably wish they’d edited out a few tracks and given the remaining ones titles that made some kind of sense. Though not without merit, the overriding sensation is one of empty melodrama.
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