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Easy to like but slightly flawed
on 4 September 2005
'Set Yourself on Fire' is going to be one of those albums that slips past most people. Unless you're listening to alternative music stations all day or watching MTV2 at 2 in the morning, there's little evidence of thier existence outside of a website (kind enough to let you listen to the album) and the CD itself.
What a lot of people are going to miss out on is a band who are effortlessly charming, easy to like and despite quite a large number of stumbles along the way, have produced an album that is easily worth buying.
If you're looking for a comparison as far as other bands go then they're probably closest to the Dears in that they're shamelessly grandiose and emotional but also in some of the songs structures and instrumentation.
Where Stars often trip up on 'Set Yourself...' is on the issues of vocals and verses. What quickly becomes apparent is that the band are great at writing choruses, but struggle from time to time with the verse of a song. This is why tracks like 'Ageless Beauty', 'Celebration Guns' and 'Your ex lover is dead' work so well as they avoid the traditional 'verse chorus verse' structure. However, even when the band flounder a little on the verse of a track like 'What I'm trying to say', they have the chorus to make the whole experience worthwhile.
The two voices are used to varying degrees of sucess. For a start Amy Millan's voice is beautiful, fragile and has a kind of warmth that makes you want to skip to the tracks that she takes the lead on. When her voice is too soft to carry off a chorus, fellow vocalist Torquil Campbell often gives it some weight but he never over powers her or vice versa it's in this little trick when the band sound strongest. Unfortunatley when left to the voals on his own, Campbell sometimes has an annoying habbit of over enunciating words and cramming sylables into lines (maybe not his fault) that make some songs reminiscent of The Beautiful South or Deacon Blue, how much this irritates you depends on your feelings towards the beautiful south or Deacon Blue. Personally, it bothers me quite a bit.
Having said that, the tunes are often so good that some minor vocal niggles are easily forgotten. Especially when some really impressive string arrangements, cute little electro bleeps and some genuinely heartfelt lyrics (although there's the odd clanger) are taken into account. While they trip up from time to time, Stars are impossible not to like.