Stars: The North
Stars, newest album, The North, is a gem. Up until now their 2010 album, The Five Ghosts, had been their best. But all of Stars’ albums are comprehensive works of art. They delve into romantic, and often morbid, themes in tracks that can also stand alone – a must in the age of digital music.
The North presents us with the same musical values that Stars has always kept, but with a slightly different tone. Stars’ devoted fan base can still enjoy the delicate ruminations of lead vocalists Amy Millan and Torq Campbell, yet this record is edgier; it flirts with rock.
The North begins with the wordy and slightly offbeat “Theory of Relativity,” an homage to Big Audio Dynamite’s “E=MC2.” It is as suited for a dance club as much as it is for a lonely room at 3 a.m. This song is the perfect opening.
Millan exclusively takes the reigns on “Backlines,” an upbeat, yet poetic, track that explores the nostalgia that Stars invariably feels after five records.
Given that the Montreal-native band members are pushing 40, one may wonder if they are still qualified to sing of such passionate love, usually associated with youth. “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” is “the philosophical backbone of the whole band” according to Campbell, and also this record’s thesis. It proves that Stars is no stranger to longing, no less than the youth.
In “A Song Is A Weapon,” which begins with a quotation from Woody Guthrie, Campbell and Millan show, as the title says, that songs can be potent, especially from Stars. The band’s gift is that even a politically charged track like this can be personal. “You,” sings Campbell, “are the bullet in the chamber of the gun.”
The North, at its heart, is a conversation between the band’s past and future.
Just as Five Ghosts represented a distinct improvement for the band over Set Yourself on Fire, The North further refines that which makes Stars special. Like the couple in the duet “Walls,” Stars is still emerging. As the song fades out, the lyrics “and you can have me / but you can’t make me happy” linger in the background as a promise that Stars has unfinished business. Unfinished business that will, surely, appear in even more impressive albums than The North.