The Five Ghosts


The latest effort from the Montreal band Stars is something of a disappointment after the ambitious promise of earlier efforts like 2005’s Set Yourself on Fire and 2007’s In Our Bedroom, After the War. Nothing on The Five Ghosts seems to hit the heights of the best tracks from those albums and the dull bits from those records are still there on this record. Moreover, it’s on a less grand scale both musically and lyrically, with robotic, dated-sounding ’80s electro-pop substituting for the band’s usual mix of obsessively-arranged sophisticated, adult pop. While being one of the band’s most cohesive, organic-sounding records, The Five Ghosts just doesn’t blast off the way one might hope.

Stars are led by two distinctive singers. Torquil Campbell is the carefully-articulated but breathy, pathos-laden male voice. Amy Milan’s voice has a childlike quality that can alternate between fetching and cloying. They sound great harmonizing together on the lush opening track “Dead Hearts,” perhaps the record’s strongest, bringing to mind ’80s bands like Prefab Sprout and the Go Betweens.

Unfortunately it’s downhill from there, with a progression of upbeat tunes that upon reflection seem virtually indistinguishable from each other. The record reaches its nadir with the repetitive “We Don’t Want Your Body,” which seems aimed directly at the dance floor but which wears out its welcome quickly.

Campbell’s more moody “He Dreams He’s Awake” and Milan’s soft, understated “Changes” provide a bit of variety. They trade vocals again on “The Passenger,” which is marred by a nagging synth riff and ticky-tack drum machine. Campbell’s “The Last Song Ever Written” has more musical depth to it, but it just sort of fades into the stratosphere without leaving much of an impression. The band returns to upbeat electro-pop on Milan’s New Order-ish “How Much More,” and guitars and bass neatly slice through the swirling synths and drum machines. But the record ends on a chilly note, literally, with “Winter Bones.”

The Five Ghosts is ultimately underwhelming and bears the distinct marks of a missed opportunity. Rather than building on the band’s strengths and potential, it merely treads water and in some ways takes a step backward. Too bad. You can’t help but root for these guys.

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