Stars are back, folks. Well, at least the Canadian indie pop band is back to doing what it does best: writing deeply emotive, vividly detailed analyses of the issue of love (or lack of it). Theirs are the words most of us would write or sing if we had a modicum of the talent displayed by Stars’ six current members: Torquil Campbell, Evan Cranley, Amy Millan, Chris McCarron, Patty McGee and Chris Seligman.
There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light is the ninth album by the band, which has been around since 2000. Over time, the sound evolved from fizzy pop to super synth, but the heart has remained the same, and it is fully out on their sleeve on this new release. Unabashedly upbeat and catchy, a closer listen to the songs’ lyrics reveals a melancholy tone while the melodies are a throwback to Stars’ early airy, piano- and duet-laden style, now imbued with a healthy dose of synth.
“Privilege,” the first of 12 songs on the album, is perfectly old-school Stars, a version of what the band does brilliantly: start with a psychedelic pop melody that’s little more than a whisper that builds to an explosive, demanding climax, the chorus of which echoes, “Never got what you want.”
Another example of the band at its best is, “The Maze,” buried near the end of Fluorescent Light. The lyrics tell a story about nothing that absolutely enraptures the listener. “In the centre of the maze on a summer afternoon/ I sat alone and waited until I saw the moon,” sings Campbell before the song escalates into what has to be an acid trip, complete with erupting stars and collapsing stars and secret rooms.
Possibly the darkest song on the album, “Losing to You,” is a study in paranoia. Laced with synth and driven by percussion, the song addresses the questions we all pose to ourselves as we feel distance growing in a relationship. The end seems to finally come when, singing together, Campbell and Millan describe, “You remember that night that I stayed out late?/ Woke you up at quarter after three/ Afraid my face would show the spark that was burning in my heart.”
The album’s highlight, however, is “Fluorescent Light.” Not only is it a duet (I’m a sucker for them), but it’s catchy as all hell. And it shouldn’t be. At all. It’s a heartbreaking plea for human interaction. “Come out with me tonight, come out with me tonight/ No one falls in love under fluorescent light,” Campbell sings with Millan.
For longtime Stars fans, Fluorescent Light is a return to form, reminiscent of 2004’s Set Yourself on Fire or 2007’s In Our Bedroom after the War. New listeners will get a stunning introduction to the band’s trademark storytelling, making “the small things big and the big things a chorus,” according to Campbell.