Music: The Five Ghosts by Stars * * * *
Releasing their breakthrough album, Set Yourself on Fire, around the time that Arcade Fire first made it big was fortuitous timing for this Montreal band.
The mid-2000s seemed to revolve around Canadian music and Stars were caught up in the acclaim.
Unfortunately for Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan -- who front the band -- they failed to capitalise on that album's success. 2007's follow-up, In Our Bedroom After the War, was unloved and Millan's solo albums were not in the same ballpark as her sometime Broken Social Scene bandmate, Feist.
It's taken personal tragedy -- the untimely death of Campbell's father from a heart attack -- to reawaken their mojo and this understated, occasionally melancholic and often beguiling album sounds like the work of a revitalised band.
Grief haunts many of the songs, the best of which find Campbell and Millan sharing vocals. It's a union that works most effectively when the pair are in call-and-response mode -- a trick that made Set Yourself on Fire so noteworthy, although they don't sound quite as effervescent here (unsurprising, given the fact that regret and missed opportunities loom large).
While previous Stars albums offered immediate sustenance, this one takes its time to worm its way into your affections. After three listens, it's clear that there is a strong contingent of top-notch songs -- from the infectious, chart friendly attack of the Millan-led Changes to the melodrama of Dead Hearts. There are lighter moments, too -- not least the sparkling electro-pop of We Don't Want Your Body, in which Millan sounds sexy and sassy as she delivers a stream of put-downs to a would-be lover.
For much of the album, the band have resisted the temptation to ratchet up the orchestration and the sparse production gives Millan's delicate vocals room to emote. Lyrically, too, they've eschewed the tendency to over-elaborate, favouring realism over flights of fancy, even if the title of The Last Song Ever Written suggests the band won't let go of their excesses quite that easily.
Burn it: Changes; How Much More?