The Dears - No Cities Left

Pretentious and arrogant in the best possible sense.



The first thing that struck me about this, the new Dears album, is that Murray Lightburn seems to have finally stopped sounding like Gene frontman Martin Rossiter and has developed a rather clever impersonation of a young Damon Albarn. In fact, No Cities Left could be a sister piece to Blur's Leisure, so close are they in terms of atmosphere. Half of it is depressed, wallowing in self pity, the other half is so light and bouncy you'd expect it to skip down the street singing showtunes. In fact, most of the songs on here are like that too. But don't get me wrong, I like me a bit of Albarn and I like me a bit of Leisure too, whether it comes from Montreal or Essex I care not and neither should you.


This is a far better album than their debut, bigger and wider in scope with more theatrics and orchestral arrangements. He may not want to walk around throwing Gladiolis at people whilst stroking his quiff; but singer Murray can't quite get away from his Morrissey fixation, especially in his lyrics, which mix political views and personal depression in a rather clumsy manner; but he makes up for that with some of the most (over)dramatic vocals and pretentious arrangements heard outside of a Divine Comedy album. Expect The Worst/'Cos She's A Tourist is a prime example. It's got two titles for a start. How much more pretentious can you get? Well, a lot actually. It starts with some throbbing, sinister strings before a repetitive cymbal comes crashing in, like a thumping hangover headache. Then Lightburn goes all theatrical, drops to his knees and yells, "My heart is aching, my back is breaking," before a military drum beat drags us through the local Church, where the choir are practising a bit of Wagner, before running into the local community centre and disrupting a good old fashioned polka recital.


Prepare yourself, we're only two minutes in and this behemoth of a track lasts for just shy of eight. It settles down for a few minutes after the little Polka incident to catch its breath before a horn section appears from nowhere and attempts to recreate Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon in two and a half minutes. Pretentious? Even Neil Hannon would stand up and applaud.


That's by no means an isolated incident. Pinned Together, Falling Apart is the sound of Damon Albarn playing the lead in a musical written by Nick Cave; dark, depressing and Gothic in atmosphere, with a ridiculously overwrought guitar solo and wonderfully anguished vocals. Postcard From Purgatory begins with a bad UB40 style dub beat, which hangs around far longer than it should without any help, before Lightburn appears with his Albarn imitation in full effect. After about 5 minutes that beat finally disappears into a pool of white noise before returning with a ZZ Top guitar riff and a flute and builds up into a wall of frantic, psychedelic noise. It's like early Mercury Rev all over again.


It's not all doom and gloom, every now and then Murray Lightburn finds his lighter side. Don't Lose The Faith, for instance, sounds like a tribute (aka rip off) to Morrissey and Marr's Panic, as if covered by Blur of course. It even has some very depressed Morrissey style la la la's, which are lovely. All in all there's a lot to like here, if you're prepared to give it a chance. No Cities Left is a strong, commanding album, violent and surprising at every turn, very pretentious and arrogant in the best possible sense. The Dears are a talented group and with this album I think it's fair to say that they finally deserve to be welcomed into the homes of people who don't live under a maple leaf flag. Perhaps they're still a little over confident and serious, but I won't begrudge them that. Will you?