Released mid-2007, Canadian indie-band Stars fourth full-length album, “In Our Bedroom After the War” isn’t just a collection of tracks, but a soundtrack of sorts. Not for a movie, a musical, or a television show, but for a relationship. Whether real or fictional, it’s the classic tale of “love is war”; sometimes we fight as allies, and sometimes as foes. It’s not often that an album will have me creating (and even costuming) characters in my head, but this one even has me picking out sheets for them. “In Our Bedroom After the War” is either an almost-brilliant little concept CD or I clearly need help. I’ll go with the former.
After a brief, instrumental opening track, this album really begins for me on Track 2 – the aptly named “The Night Starts Here”. And what a sweet start it is. “The ecstasy, the being free, that big black cloud over you and me…” On this, the first of a dozen love/break-up songs on the disc (and the first track with vocals), the lyrics are delivered in an ardent he-said/she-said exchange between vocalists Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. What follows is a succession of hurt and hope, love and loss, and a personal ad or two, thrown in for good measure.
Some songs contain obvious influences: In “The Ghost of Genova Heights” Campbell’s surprising falsetto on the chorus falls somewhere between Barry Gibb and the Scissor Sisters; while “Life 2: The Unhappy ending”, could’ve been a Smiths song, with Torquin threatening to out-Morressey Morressey himself. Others, like “Take Me to the Riot” and “Today will be better, I swear!” are classic Stars; the latter with Millan’s sweetly hopeful vocals, soaring instrumentals and, wait…are those monkeys?
One of my favourite songs on the album is the deliciously laid-back “My Favourite Book”. It’s pure easy-listening and makes you want to metaphorically curl up in it like a cat in a sunbeam; comfortably, predictably and with just a touch of self-indulgence. (Incidentally, literary types amongst us will be interested to note that the liner notes, full of seemingly-random imagery and references to 80s New Wave, were written by Daniel Handler, fellow musician and author of the “Lemony Snicket” series of novels.)
The thing that I like best about this CD is that, above all, it’s a cohesive collection of above-average to excellent pop songs, with obvious attention to narrative and flow. From its understated beginning, to its dramatic, theatrical conclusion, this CD takes us through all the relationship land-mines and white-flags that come with any passionate pairing. But, we are never made to feel like voyeurs; but, rather, welcome observers to a couple’s most intimate, and sometimes raw, moments.
“In Our Bedroom After the War” is available at http://www.arts-crafts.ca/ or on iTunes. Their new EP, “Sad Robots” is available now. Other iPod-worthy tracks are “Elevator Love Letter” from the album “Heart”, and their charming 2001 cover of the Smith’s “This Charming Man”. If you like Feist, Everything but the Girl, the Smiths, Broken Social Scene, then there is an excellent chance you will like Stars.