Stars - Set Yourself On Fire

a brilliant, honest and emotional portrayal of love in all its aspects, totally devoid of all mawkishness aor sentimentality

 

This is a lovely album.

 

Your Ex-Lover is Dead starts off in a very downbeat way before picking up with the aid  of some twinking keyboards and some quiet but determined-sounding vocals. No wonder, as it's a great song about love and loss, not a song brim-full of longing (as most of these "lost love" tracks seem to be) but more of a public statement of acceptance that you can't go back and recreate the past. It is absolutely wonderful.

 

Set Yourself on Fire begins with some quite schizophrenic and unsettling keyboard sounds. No matter, it develops into an international love song of kinds. Again, the structure of the song, whilst somewhat melancholy, is hopeful and resolute in its delivery. I like the honesty with which Stars tackle the big subjects. I also get the feeling that, as a band, they are quite prepared to fall flat on their arses if things go wrong; a quiet bravura envelops this song and the soft coda that ends it.

 

Ageless Beauty is candy pop and all the better for it, the wobbly girl harmonies, it's ethereal chord structure and the guitar effects near the ending bring the Cocteau Twins or Lush to mind and that makes me a happy man. It's again a song dealing with big themes but done in a remarkably adept, simple way. Reunion is a lot more abrasive, effects stripped to a minimum, it is very reminiscent of (and I don't know why) the Weather Prophets, mopey C86 guitar pop but with great lyrics about meeting an old teenage flame "you've reassembled just like me/but when I reach to touch your hand/you stroke mine gently" is just one great example I can quote.

 

The Big Fight is a girl-boy conversation (split over alternate vocal lines) about (yep) lurve, with a beautiful soft refrain. It's utterly compelling in its simplicity, there's no mawkishness in sight, rather a simple stating of the facts and an avoidance of sentiment. The song tails out into an instrumental of sorts, employing lots of quietly bubbling synths. What I'm Trying to Say starts with a thumping early eighties synth riff before turning ito a Marc Almond style "celebration of a bohemian lifestyle". Mention is made to drugs clothes and dancing so it must be bohemian... It's nice the way the song fades away and then re-asserts itself with a very declamatory chorus. There's a great jangly mid-eighties guitar riff at the end too. Hang on is this a Philip Glass rip? I think so. Still One More Night is a great track, starting off with the Glass bit, before going very quiet (just vocals at one point) before building slowly up again. I mean, it sounds very obvious, but it is bloody effective. The vocals switch from the female to male perspective (as they often do throughout the LP, but not as pronounced as here), giving a pinch more emotional experience and clarity to the song's message, that of going to bed with an old lover. A glorious, feedback-soaked guitar run brings everything to a close.

 

Sleep Tonight has a druggy My Bloody Valentine feel to it but is ever so sweet and the lyrics are fab as well; read this. "All around us quiet now/we hear leaves fall to the ground/morning light upon our bed/an ally while I catch your breath..." its just so nice is it not? The First Five Times is a celebration of sex which is rumbustuous and ebullient in mood (as it should be in all honesty). A fuzzy bass-synth holds the thing together, helped by some squeaking noises.

 

The tone changes over the next two sngs; thinly veiled attacks on a certain Mr Bush and his policies in the Middle East. He Lied About Death is in stark contrast to the celebratory mood that has gone before; lines such as "killers always have killers on their back" and I hope your drunken daughters are gay" leave no doubt in the listeners mind as to the intended target of this attack. The music changes too, it's much harder and more manic in tone. Carrying on this theme is Celebration Guns which again deals with Iraq. "A desert wind and a perverse desire to win/history buried in shame" However this time the music is much more melancholy, as strings support a plaintive female vocal. The track ends in sombre mood with the sound of gunfire going off in the background.

 

Soft Revolution is a return to the quiet, hopeful sound showcased earlier in the album. There's a thumpingly harmonious refrain just after the first verse. After a melodic gallop  the song breaks down to a quiet whisper for a very effective ending. Calendar Girl starts off a simple song, female vocals supported by a elementary piano chord. It soon becomes another conversation piece that slowly builds up to be a beautiful song (I think) about surviving in this cruel cruel world. Swirling guitars and strings create a very affecting ending.

 

So there you have it, a brilliant, honest and emotional portrayal of love in all its aspects, totally devoid of all mawkishness aor sentimentality. The sort of thing not heard for a while now. I recommend it heartily.