By Clash Reader Marcus Foley

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“This song is about fucking someone to death…” now that’s a hell of an introduction. The sort of banter that should preface a progressive black metal symphony with a three-week long guitar solo and vocals that sound like they emanate from the very pits of hell and only reach your ears having been filtered though the carcasses of a thousand ritualistically slaughtered goats. Odd then, that tonight it ushers in a fey guitar and piano-led number that could only sound less menacing if the protagonists whispered it into your ear while feeding you peeled grapes.

And so the problem with Stars reveals itself. On record, their dark lyrical slant shines through and implants itself in your brain. This year’s ‘In Our Bedroom After the War’ contains as much high melodrama and introspective moments of reflection as an album with such a title should. It might not exactly be instant, but the sort of record that, after you sit with it and appreciate its intelligence and literacy, becomes as soothing and beguiling as a cup of tea on a rainy day.

In the flesh though, it’s a very different story, and the poetic deconstructions of life, love and war, float lazily to the Scala roof. The flower-adorned stage should have really been a giveaway, and visually they confuse and amuse much more than they inspire. The bassist looks suspiciously like Babydaddy from Scissor Sisters, the rhythm guitarist has the build of a moptop Merseybeat waif, and the singer is Tim Roth, but fronting the B-52s. So far, so very twee, and their ‘big’ moments are lost in a comparatively languid performance.

The beautiful agit-pop that has made their last two albums such triumphs is diluted as their music flits from powerpop to Duran Duran style bassy synth, then goes a bit Pixies, if the Pixies’ template had been ‘quiet-slightly less quiet-quiet’. All the while, Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell look mighty pleased with themselves. The trilby-toting bassist prances around and throws some flowers, and the Coral’s lost member switches to a sparkly guitar strap, but it’s too little too late. Campbell makes a proclamation about how Canadians are the best lovers around, but if what is happening on stage offers any sort of correlation, I fear many a tourist to Montreal may be disappointed.

Heads nod along in polite approval, but there’s little to be excited about. There is no doubt that Stars write some of the most informed cinematically grand pop music emerging from Canada right now, but you wouldn’t back them in a fight against Arcade Fire or even Godspeed… “Not as good as Broken Social Scene” someone remarks on the way out in the understatement of the evening.

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