Stars: The Comeback EP

[24 September 2001]

By Ben Varkentine

Stars is a four-piece electronic pop band currently based in Montreal. At the Darla records site, Stars vocalist Torquill Campbell describes their last CD, the album Nightsongs as “a loving pastiche”. That may well be; it’s true that you could tell by listening to it that the band had something of a ‘80s obsession (the Smiths cover should have tipped you off). But it was also the kind of wonderful album that hearing is like making a connection with a stranger (especially if you share said ‘80s obsession. And let’s not kid ourselves.). This was one of the finest records of 2001.

The Comeback sees Stars solidifying their songcraft. And now the time has come in this review for a bold pronouncement, so here it is: 20 years from now, we’ll think of this EP as “The one with ‘The Aspidistra Files’ on it.” This song is one of the best pieces of material Stars have produced in their 20 recorded songs of existence. To say that a song is the best out of 20 may not seem like much compared to the catalog of oh, say, Paul McCartney, but considering that Nightsongs contained such gems as “Counting Stars on the Ceiling” and “Going, Going Gone”, it’s out of this world. “All the umbrellas in London couldn’t hide my love for you,” Campbell sings in a hushed tone. The whimsical lyric of “Aspidistra” is equaled by the sweetness of the multi-tracked vocal; it’s as though Andy Partridge had written a song for the Bee Gees. Campbell sounds like someone puttering around an empty house, sure that he’ll see a new lover again, but not knowing where or when. Like a lot of effective love songs, there’s as much wishful thinking as statements of fact in this one. And Stars seem like they know it, but like to sing the songs anyway.

The best realized song besides “Aspidistra Files” is “Krush”, with it’s descending keyboard hook. “Violent” comes in third, though a live drummer playing less staggering (as in drunken, not great) beats would make more of it. But then, in general I prefer a more pounding beat to the skittering, drum & bass-esque ones Stars sometimes use, which is my only real complaint about the band.

If I had to describe Stars to someone in only two words, those words would be, “beautiful hope”. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we could all use a little beautiful hope right now. Even if there’s not much to hope for. Because of that, Stars should be much valued by pop fans.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/stars-comeback/