"Ladies and gentlemen, set yourself on fire!" exclaims novelist Ibi Kaslik on the inside cover of Stars's sophomore album, Set Yourself on Fire. This begins a rather brief but punchy tirade about how we should not laze about while fascist dictators, ahem Bush, are in power. While there are only a handful of political songs, the rest of the album is comprised of ballads, which Kaslik addresses as "songs about dying from loving the wrong cowboy."
Four words come to mind when asked to describe Stars: saccharine lush pop dream. They come off as a little too sweet to provoke a riot with their anti-war and anti-fascist songs, but their sound is perfect for love songs. Subjecting yourself to fiery flames is not only about starting a revolution to overthrow all the tyrants in the world, but it also refers to taking one of the biggest risks of all: to fall unconditionally in love until it hurts. Even if the relationship does not work out, as Torquil Campbell confesses "I'm not sorry I met you/ I'm not sorry it's over/ I'm not sorry there's nothing to save," it is all worth it in the end.
Acknowledging these themes as their forte, Stars produce more refined sentimental love songs on Set Yourself on Fire. All of the tracks are about flawed relationships, but Stars remain painfully optimistic about love, or at least the idea of it. Their optimism appears to be naive, as a consequence of their straight-from-a-wounded-teenager's-diary lyrics. The lyrics indulge Campbell and Amy Millan's longing for the far too distant past, clinging only to memories and what could have been. From the amorous epiphany stimulated by a fortuitous meeting in "Your Ex-Lover is Dead" to adolescent zeal in "Sleep Tonight," they are glowing hopeless romantics with lingering feelings to excavate and uncover. The band is charming, however, with their ability to take their sappy diction and arrange beautiful vocal harmonies to intertwine with a rich orchestra and waves of synthesizers. Their sound channels the Postal Service's electro-pop, which is why they are commonly referred to as the Canadian Postal Service.
On this album, Stars enter a new frontier with their political rage. Campbell demands, "What gives you the right to fuck with our lives?" in the heavily synthetic "He Lied About Death." A barrage of programmed beats, fizz, and squeals tumble over Campbell's light and gentle-as-a-feather vocals. The electronic squeals are ear-splitting and alarming and this is enhanced by the overall slick production of the first nine tracks. They take a completely disparate approach in the anti-war "Celebration Guns." Serenading strings and a wailing french horn are arranged to parallel music from the Revolutionary War as Millan innocently sings her disappointment in the high death count generated by the war. They accelerate the tempo and modernize the music in "Soft Revolution." The giddy bass line in the track is more likely to inspire some physical movement than a political movement. While diverse and catchy, all of the songs do not deliver strong enough messages to encourage young adults to get out and change the political scene.
Stars' career is like a relationship. Their sophomore album is a little callow and hopefully their career will keep progressing, so that they will develop more mature lyrics to accompany their already developed sound for their next album.
7.2 / 10
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