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"Degeneration Street"

The Dears – Degeneration Street
14 March 2011, 08:00 Written by Sharon Kean

Former NME darlings The Dears have made it through the wilderness to put down their fifth studio album, which at first glance could appear to be their best yet.

After 2003′s wonderfully clever No Cities Left and the almost-as-good-yet-more-successful Gang of Losers three years later, the Montreal-based musicians fell off the face of the earth when their last record, Missiles, mis-fired and band members scattered.

Reforming and resurfacing with Degeneration Street they rather cleverly cherry pick the finest fruit from the Canadian indie tree, including an orchestral nod to the godly sound of Arcade Fire. But it is perhaps their will to sound so like something that makes this long player feel slightly forced at, if not formulaic on closer inspection.

The album’s opening track ‘Omega Dog’ is 100 per cent Dears with its foreboding countdown-style guitar paving the way for the melodramatic ballad that the group’s followers will have come to expect. It’s a safe bet to assume that most fans will have a copy of No Cities Left, so any uniqueness this introduction provides will be strictly reserved for newcomers to lead singer Murray Lightburn and his brand of dramatic indie quirkiness.

Interestingly, after just two songs the pace, atmosphere, style, in fact, everything changes, as ‘Blood’ blasts itself into consciousness with 90s grunge guitars that are not unlike a clean-cut Smashing Pumpkins tune. This seems to be a minor blip on the musical radar though, as ‘Thrones’ retreats back to Lightburn’s trademark teasing vocal paired with a suggestively moody drumbeat and guitar chords. But after a minute or so, something strange happens again as the band go for a Coldplay crescendo with ‘We can’t go through this again’’ being the first of a clutch of clichéd lyrics that suggest The Dears might be struggling to find something new to say for themselves.

The have-a-go spirit permeates throughout the rest of the record with nods to British stadium-filling bands such as Muse (‘Galactic Tides’) and even on occasion, Elbow (‘Easy Suffering’), alongside the Arcade Fire influenced power pop. ‘Yesteryear’ sees the mood uncharacteristically lift and lighten as a jig-like beat is thrown in among the pickled souls. However, its clunky juxtaposition makes it feel more like an embarrassing attempt at indie-pop (which the Dears do not do well) and implies that the band seem prepared to try just about anything.

‘Tiny Man’ with its touch of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ is equally unsettling, if not just plain weird when combined with Lightburn’s lazy Damon Albarn-esque vocals. And while the poetic repetition of lyrics in ‘Lamentation’ might appear charming if stuttered and whined by Win Butler and echoed by Regine Chassagne, the lack of originality here means the overall effect is more akin to a lolloping drawn out Keane hit single or a rather tired Shed Seven ballad.

Degeneration Street has a disappointingly polished and manufactured feel and suggests that the once youthfully excitable and original Dears have misplaced the quirky edge that made their brand of on-trend indie, the thing to listen to a few years back.All in all it’s not a bad album, just not a patch on the group’s moment of undoubted genius, No Cities Left. And sadly for the Dears, with the guitar music no longer being the place to be, anything less than their finest will probably fail to find its place on front pages.

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