Review Summary: Wake up; say good morning to / that sleepy person lying next to you / and if there's no one there, then there's no one there / but at least the war is over.
One of the criticisms often hurled at accessible music, especially that to be found on the radio, is the degree to which it feels manufactured. And it's certainly true in many respects; the type of pop that appeals to the lowest common denominator is, while often commercially intelligent, usually far from deserving of artistic praise. There is, however, another group consisting of albums that feel well deliberated over, and they serve as proof that there is no need to abandon real emotion or instinct in order to construct a record which can actually maintain a common thread or idea and appeal to a wide audience. Stars' In Your Bedroom After The War
is one such release; at once both hopelessly romantic and carefully crafted, it never feels awkward despite the many self-imposed opportunities to trip and fall.
It's the kind of feeling that starts with the opening track's spoken-word introduction; a poem, delivered with fragile conviction, which asks, "will we wake in the morning, and know what it was for?" There are no live vocals on the first song, which is a bass-heavy electronic-dominated instrumental for the most part, and the first time you hear the sweet vocals of Amy Millan, there's nothing instantly remarkable about the song or either vocalist. Bedroom
takes a while to get started, but its opening trio of songs builds towards the first chorus of Take Me To The Riot, and from there the record takes flight; the soft dual vocals, mellow electronics and subtle nuances coax you in and before you're even aware of it, you're singing along.
And what's most impressive about Bedroom
is that with repeated listens it all does
become remarkable; it's incredible, for example, how such understated voices as Millan's and Torquil Campbell can hold so much power and diversity; on Barricade, Campbell's experience as a musical performer comes to the fore in a piano ballad which wouldn't be too far out of place in Les Mis - it's one of the only tracks on Bedroom
that could be called predictable, lacking the sudden change in tempo, vocalist or atmosphere that serves to keep the rest of the album fresh, but that also serves to bring everything down to earth slightly. On My Favourite Book, Millan is typically soothing and heartwarming as she croons a straight-up love song. Together, they provide some absolute gems of romantic, heartstring-tugging lyricism. As Midnight Coward's instrumentation drops to just a piano, the track gradually builds to a crescendo behind which lies the line, "what can't be decided, can fool you into thinking maybe you can choose."
It's the mixture of distinctly human and vulnerable sentiments like this, the melodic and pop sensibilities that are a constant pleasure, and a plethora of sudden changes in direction, that render this album so infinitely listenable. Personal, the only track to feature real dialogue between the two vocalists, comes out of absolutely nowhere; it's tender, emotional, and incredibly realistic, which after the repetition of Genova Heights is designed to calm everything down. The violin in My Favourite Book's bridge, the undisguised variety from track to track, unexpected drum fills, and rapid explosions or lulls in tracks are the tools that Stars use to remain interesting; they stay accessible, calming and beautiful by virtue of superb pop songwriting and their ability to hit you right where it hurts, but there's also enough momentum and detail to ensure it never gets dull or mediocre.
In Our Bedroom After The War is hardly a concept album, but the point is that it sort of knows that; the common thread that it holds is more musical than lyrical. The title track, which closes the record, reminds you that sometimes there is solace to be found in the fact that there are no wars to be fought. Whether that's literal or not isn't made clear, but it seems far more likely it's a reference to the trials and tribulations of Bedroom
's characters, and the release of it all being over with. It's not flawless, and there are lulls in quality (notably Window Bird and Life 2: The Unhappy Ending), but the imperfections add character to the cyclic beats, and the flaws rarely prevent a song's climax from reaching some kind of nerve or vital organ. Whether that's your head, your heart or your feet is entirely dependent on the type of person you are, but you can rest assured that if your tastes include indie-pop, dual vocals and some of the prettiest music around, In Our Bedroom After The War
is a must-listen.