>Canadian indie pop darlings the Stars are one of those bands that always seems on the verge of something huge. 2004’s “Set Yourself on Fire” was so well received amongst critics and fans, you can only expect something even more amazing for the next release.
And then the band released “In Our Bedroom After the War” to online retailers two months earlier than the official release, and fans were left confused: was this it? And why the early release? Reviews from both fans and critics were mixed, some saying it lacked the bravado of “Set Yourself on Fire” and wouldn’t have the lasting power of its predecessor.
Granted, “In Our Bedroom After the War” had some large shoes to fill. “Set Yourself on Fire” was a huge artistic success, and any album coming after it would be like comparing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” to “Darkside of the Moon.” Basically, it doesn’t have a chance in hell.
But despite the mixed reviews, “In Our Bedroom After the War” is an excellent album, portraying the love and loss that comes with the end of war. This theme is spread throughout the whole album, with lyrics stemming from the opening line: “Will we wake in the morning and know what it was all for? / Up in our bedroom, after the war?” After this, the album continues this theme, showing the ambiguity of love and personal identity after the turmoil of war.
Although the narrative of the album sometimes lags behind its grander theme, it seems a relevant theme in our modern times, and fits within Stars’ aesthetic of emotional turmoil and loss. And sure it may not be as biting or nihilistic as “Set Yourself on Fire,” but it does the job. In “The Ghost of Genova Heights,” the sense of loss in war is at its strongest: “He hoped to be remembered as the one / Who told his men to turn back … Roses are the flower he would prefer / Scatter all his ashes on the pier.” Clearly, war is devastating, and this album takes it on directly.
Of course, the lyrics are only one small part of this album. The music certainly builds upon the indie pop aesthetic the Stars have developed over the years. Vocalists Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan continue their boy/girl vocal styles, playing dueling vocal roles. In “Take Me to the Riot,” the best blend of male and female vocals portray the brewing relationship within the narrative of the album. In comparison of “Set Yourself on Fire,” “In Our Bedroom After the War” displays the dynamic between Campbell and Millan in a much more diverse way; instead of splitting vocal duties song-by-song, “In Our Bedroom After the War” shows that the two vocalists blend together exceptionally well.
Stylistically, “In Our Bedroom After the War” makes use of synthesizers and traditional instruments, but with a more subdued sound. Gone are the samples and lengthy synthesizer riffs of the past; instead, Stars rely more heavily on strings, piano and drums. The opening track (“The Beginning After the End”) suggests an album heavily layered with synthesized drums and lead riffs, but by the end the most dominant instrument seems to be a basic piano. Even with this more subdued sound, the music just works.
Right in the middle of this more subdued sound comes the fast rocking but oddly named “Bitches in Tokyo.” The song represents the climax of the album. Sung by Millan, “Bitches in Tokyo” brings in the desire and carpe diem feelings of these post-war lovers: “The time when all our mistakes made sense / You needed it … Well I can’t take it / ‘Cause I just want you back.” And at this point, the album reflects a more positive tone; in “Today Will Be Better, I Swear!,” well, the song title speaks for itself.
The album’s shift toward a more positive outlook of love after war is where most fans and critics seem most upset. But within this, Stars have shown their lasting power through a positive love, not just loss. Unfortunately, the album’s worst moment is in the final song, the title track “In Our Bedroom After the War.” Campbell sings “It’s us – yes, we’re back again / Here to see you through, ’til the days end / And if the night comes, and the night will come / Well at least the war is over,” but the lackluster song doesn’t wrap up an otherwise complete and beautiful album. Instead, it leaves the listener confused; there is no longer the possibility of irony or menace lurking in the background. It is a grand exit that feels more like the end of a broadway play than a indie pop album.
Despite its flaws, “In Our Bedroom After the War” is still a great album. And even though it doesn’t seem to hold up to Stars’ past albums, it certainly shows an extremely talented band enjoying the fruits of their creative peak. Who knows, in a few years time, this might be the album everyone talks up the most.