Stars have always had a penchant for romantic tragedy on an epic, literary scope. But they’ve always brought the party as well, channeling Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s tales of conflicted lovers lost and found into new wave inspired pop gems that you can dance to. And while the subject matter remains mostly the same on The Five Ghosts, the band’s fifth album, the record’s somber pacing and foggy production manage to suck the fun out of everything.
Granted, some of Stars’ best songs have been more downbeat in both spirit and tempo. “Tonight” off of 2001’s Nightsongs remains a live staple and one of the band’s most emotionally resonant cuts. Yet, in the past, these tunes were always strategically sequenced around kinetic, impossibly danceable, full band assaults like “Ageless Beauty” and “Take Me To The Riot”.
On The Five Ghosts, everything is turned down a notch and coated in a thick layer of murky static. The band may as well have left the rhythm section at home. All of the instrumentation is singularly mixed and hissing, and the electronic clicks keep some of the album’s snappier tracks like “How Much More” from ever taking off. What’s worse, the slower songs simply fall flat. In fact, “Changes” sounds like “Stand By Me” backed by a hung over Jimmy Tamborello.
However, there are some bright spots throughout. Lyrically, the band is at the top of their game, marrying their usual romantic drama to an enchanting obsession with a set of ghost children. “Fixed” and “We Don’t Want Your Body” rank with Stars’ best work, and they’re the two tracks from the album that manage to successfully mix the white noise with the band’s infectious dance beats.
But it’s ultimately not enough to save things. The Five Ghosts never works its way into your eardrums and romantic sensibilities like Stars’ earlier work, and given the lyrics, I’m pretty sure that’s still the band’s intent. Slowing down is one thing. Boring your listener is another.