Since The Dears first released No Cities Left in 2003, I've consistently had the band filed under "Favorite Bands" in my mind. Murray Lightburn and the musicians that surround him have been a reliable source of quality music for as long as I can remember. Whether it was "22: Death of All the Romance" or "Ballad of Humankindness" (my #1 song of 2006), The Dears have always managed to strike a chord with me (no pun intended), tugging on my emotions and forcing me to ask myself difficult questions about life, society, and the nature of people.
Missiles - an album marked by tensions within the group that ultimately found all but two of their members departing - continues to examine these deep themes rarely poked at in today's music. However, while the music continues to traverse this path, it rarely packs the punch of the band's earlier work. The band's previous two album have been marked by slow-building movements that eventually erupt with emotion. On Missiles, songs die with a whimper, often ending unemphatically or even worse, fading out entirely.
Missiles is also plagued with songs that go on for entirely too long. Album-opener, "Disclaimer," takes nearly 7 minutes off of the clock before finally deciding to call it quits. During that time, the listener is forced to listen to a completely uninteresting and possibly juvenile vocal melody and harmonies that sound just a little bit off. By the time it's all over, most will find themselves asking what the point of it all was. The album doesn't end any better either, with the 11-minute "Saviour" being more of a lesson in tedium rather than an actual attempt at making emotionally gratifying art. It seems to me that Lightburn is too focused on tearing apart the structure and style of The Dears' previous work that he forgot about what made it such a joy to listen to. The lyrics were always the band's crowning achievement, but if that's all that's required, I would have taken up poetry-reading a long time ago. Great music couples brilliant lyricism with musical compositions that elicit excitement and emotion. That, for the most part, goes entirely forgotten on Missiles.
Still, there are a few tracks that manage to satisfy, if only on a minimal level. On any other album, "Dream Job" wouldn't have even been noteworthy. On Missiles, it's the album's best track. Lightburn's declaration of "You got dreams of taking someone else's dreams away," is sort of brilliant. And the song, while never really reaching the heights that it could, manages to get be somewhat catchy especially when they add in a synthesizer towards the end. Unfortunately, the song fades out far too early and you're left wanting more than you actually receive. In reality, the only song that could possibly be considered a contender when put up against any older Dears song is "Crisis 1 & 2" which finds Natalia Yanchak taking over the majority of the vocal work and doing an absolutely fantastic job at it as well. It's always good to hear her and Murray harmonizing together, and this song is no different. Murray eventually adds in his own vocals to great effect. It's the kind of song that makes me remember why I love this band. However, rather than finding some sort of satisfying conclusion, the song simply fades out - leaving the listener hanging.
Missiles may not be the album that I was expecting or wanting when I first heard that The Dears were recording a follow-up to one of 2006's best records, but even at its worst it is far from bottom-rung. Though it fails to satisfy on an emotional level, many of Lightburn's arrangements contain the same grace and consistency that we've come to expect from the band. What the album lacks is the emotional tension, discipline, and enthusiasm of their past records. Missiles is a record that can be quite enchanting at times, but more often just downright disappointing. Most bands have at least one sub-solid, however, and if there was ever a band who could overcome such a downfall it would be The Dears. Even if it's not the same band it was 2 years ago.
1. "Dream Job"
2. "Crisis 1 & 2"
6 out of 10 Stars