No One is Lost
As a general rule, I do not write negative record reviews. I don’t feel as though it’s worth my, or especially anyone else’s, time. It’s already a stretching reason to consider the time I spend espousing what I believe to be good music to no one in particular, so wasting that time denigrating someone’s hard work seems especially pointless. My goal here is not to judge the artistic value of everything that comes my way – good or bad – and place its social and cultural importance into some farcical hierarchy. My only goal is to share my excitement about whatever music comes my way.
Having said this, the first few times I listened to Stars’ latest album, No One is Lost, I can easily say that I did not find it very enjoyable. I’ve been buying their music since buying their debut, Nightsongs, via Parasol Mail Order back in 2001 – mainly because I was curious to hear their cover of The Smiths’ “This Charming Man,” so I’ve been a fan long enough to give them the benefit of the doubt. Sure, I never grew very warm to their fifth album, 2010s Five Ghosts, but their last offering, 2012s The North (my #21 pick seen here), was a comforting return to form. This is the same band that always brings fun and inspiration to their live performances, and have consistently put in the work and the growth for me to keep giving the new album a chance, and sure enough, No One is Lost started to grow on me. I’ve been playing the album repeatedly for the last month or so and little by little it has chipped away at my initial dislike and now here I am trying to distill this information to my audience of one or two random people, because I think it’s worth the recommendation and the effort.
With The North, Stars seemed to hit reset and simply write and record an album of songs. Since their incredible sophomore album, Heart (2003), it seems that they’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating cohesive thematic albums, which is great, but it felt as if they were stretching things too far and were losing focus on the actual songs. Well, their back at it. No One is Lost is predominantly about convincing us to let go and have fun – to just say “fuck it” and not ‘lose’ oneself in the daily grind of survival. The album is bookended by two dance tracks. “From the Night” is an 80s dance remix-style song encouraging us all to go out into the night and forget work and all the boring stuff we have to do (“let’s be young / let’s pretend that we will never die”), and though its not among my favorites on this collection, it is hard not to be charmed by the chorus “I don’t care if we never come back from the night.” The closing title track similarly tries to reach the empty souls out there (I am raising my hand…) and encourages us to get out on the dance floor and to “put your hands up ‘cause everybody dies.” So, even though Stars are trying to tell us to have fun and are providing the most rousing exuberant soundtrack they’ve ever presented, in the process, they are painting a bleak picture of our society and the massive need for escape so many of us need. It may be that darker layer underneath the gloss that began to appeal to me. “Trap Door” gives us a brilliant sing-a-long chorus, and a huge dose of bitterness. Torquil Campbell provides his customary dramatic vocal turn as he sings about feeling old, fearful and out of place mixing with the kids at the club (“when you’re standing in the dark it’s hard to see the light”), which feels very identifiable.
Elsewhere it’s great to hear their knack for spectacular string arrangements on songs like the languid “Turn it Up” and gradual build up of “What is to be Done?”, like they featured so prominently on their creative zenith, 2004’s Set Yourself on Fire. Their more orchestral songs are often the best settings for so many of their melodramatic songs. However, in the end, it may be the two most straight forward pop rock songs on the album that will be my lasting favorites. The Amy Millan fronted “This is the Last Time” is a fun and addictive buzzer, while the speedy “Are You OK?” rides along a fun stuttering mid-range bass-line, which belies the seriousness of the singer’s plea to help someone “running away from life.”
I’m not sure why it took so much time for this collection of songs to grow on me, but it did and in some ways, I think this may Stars’ best work since their landmark Set Yourself on Fire. But I will leave that alone for now. As it is, it’s an album worth investigating and they continue to be a band worthy of attention. Get the album and go out and see them perform live. Go have some fun!
Stars "From the Night"