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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
In Our Bedroom After the War
Arts & Crafts

Rating: 8.5/10 ?

September 24, 2007
What is life after armed conflict? That is the simple yet prescient question that the title of In Our Bedroom After the War, the fourth album from Stars, the synth-pop masters of Canadian indie rock, alludes to. With the American occupation of Iraq dragging on, this album could be seen as piece of protest art. But is it? Here and there we see hints of what the madness and destruction of war might do to us, but at its heart In Our Bedroom After the War is a worthy, if not flawed, addition to the Stars' impressive catalogue of catchy, heartfelt love songs. No, this is not protest music, but it needn't be.

Following the sound of a simulated heartbeat, a nod perhaps to the group's second album, Heart, "The Beginning After the End," a short, synthesizer-heavy prologue, opens the album, concluding with a spoken-word poem that could be a few forgotten lines of verse from Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon: "oh the blood and the treasure and the losing it all/ the time that we wasted and the place where we fall/ will we wake in the morning and know what it was for/ up in our bedroom after the war." In Our Bedroom After the War then plunges into "The Night Starts Here," the album's first proper song and most prolific track. This is a grandiose piece, built around soaring strings, a strong disco beat, lots of blips and beeps, a rumbling bass line, and subtle electric guitar fuzz. "The Night Starts Here" ranks amongst the best of the cuts in Stars' catalogue, an eternally optimistic epic that shouts: "forget your name and forget your fear/ you drop a coin into the sea, and shout out 'please come back to me'/ you name your child after your fear, and tell them 'I have brought you here'."

Stars surprised fans when, in an effort to thwart digital piracy, the group released In Our Bedroom After the War via iTunes and other digital retailers in early July, a mere four days after mastering was finished. This early release was a treat for fans, and little is missed in the actual album packaging, other than the collection of loose-leaf lyric sheets that, when put together, form the cover art.

As always, Stars are most interested in the ever-present challenges of the heart. The band noted that they wanted to create an album that felt uniform and told a story instead of a collection of singles. There is, perhaps, the loosest of narratives here, but nothing remarkably cohesive. This failure doesn't really matter, as the tracks are both individually strong and do work as a whole, though not in the way the group necessarily intended. The tie that binds is, of course, the trials of love.

Per usual, Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan alternate vocal duties, though there is not as much back-and-forth dialogue between the two as occurred rather frequently on Set Yourself On Fire, the notable exception being on "Personal." Campbell himself reaches here and there, as on "The Ghost of Genoa Heights," a sythn-pop blur that sees the Stars' front-man doing his best falsetto impression of Michael Jackson... or is it the Backstreet Boys? There are clever moments though, such as in "Personal," a conversation between two potential lovers in a newspaper or on-line dating site. Here we meet a bored 28-year-old woman who may or may not have recently lost a loved one in war, as she is "grieving over loss/ sorry to be heavy but heavy is the cost." The premise works well, and the album would have benefited from more interplay between Campbell and Millan.

With thirteen tracks that run their course in a shade under an hour, In Our Bedroom After the War is just the slightest bit too long. The songwriting is at times awkward and far too reliant on simple rhyming ("Saturday nights in neon lights/ Sunday in the cell/ pills enough to make me fill ill/ cash enough to make me well"), and the theatrics mildly over the edge. While the album is certainly a solid effort by true masters of the indie pop craft, few of the songs reach the heights of the best from Heart or Set Yourself On Fire, "The Night Starts Here" being the only track to equal the rushes of "Elevator Love Letter" or "Ageless Beauty." But what we learn from spending time with Stars throughout this album is that they are perpetual optimists, and, as front-man Torq says, "our responsibility in writing pop songs is that no matter how grim it is, it's your life, and we have to try to make it beautiful for three-and-a-half minutes." Not a bad philosophy at all, especially in these grim times, in our lives during war.

Reviewed by Eric J. Morgan
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Eric J. Morgan is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Colorado. He has an orange cat named Nelson and longs for the day when men and women will again dress in three-piece suits and pretty dresses to indulge in three-martini lunches and afternoon affairs.

See other reviews by Eric J. Morgan



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