Stars – The Five Ghosts

I got this album expecting five ghosts, so imagine my surprise when I played the first song and five GOATS flew out!!!

I got this album expecting five ghosts, so imagine my surprise when I played the first song five GUSTS (of wind) flew out!!!

I got this album expecting five ghosts, so imagine my surprise when I played the first song and five ghosts DIDN’T fly out, because ghosts aren’t real.

But maybe it’s just the idea of ghosts, because it’s a nice idea. Wait, no it isn’t. Imagine if ghosts were actually real? It’d be terrible! All of our ideas about corporeality would be thrown out the metaphorical window, not to mention every notion of evidence and how physical entities exist and die. It’d be terrible. All of a sudden we’d have to approach our lives with the idea that observation and empiricism were not just fallible, but wholly unreliable. Maybe that’s a nice thought for people dissatisfied with this life being our only life, but for everyone who cares about observing and understanding the universe it’d be a catastrophe of confidence. Not to mention all those damned “Ghost Hunter” shows that’d suddenly have to be given credence instead of being regarded as total jokes watched by stupid people like they currently and obviously are. I mean, if only once one of those shows ended with “see, ghosts are real” instead of “we don’t know if ghosts are real, but the evidence is technically inconclusive” then all the idiots who feel any kind of ambivalence towards them would be justified. And us smart people wouldn’t be able to look down on lottery chasers and libertarians anymore because “well, anything can happen!” would be privy to nefarious and unknown new laws of nature. Oh god that doesn’t exist.

For great objectivity, dear reader (and not “deer reader” because what would be up with THAT??), you’re better off pretending that this isn’t the same band that made the curiously overhyped “Nightsongs” and the promising “Heart” and the wonderful “Set Your Shelf On Fire” and the disappointing “In Our Bedroom After the War.” These guys sound like a totally different group, one that has completely traded their guitars for fancy keyboards and given up the endless romanticism and theatrical love obsession for a generally cheerful scattershot indie approach, more like Mates of State and Kraftwerk than their old selves.

On the plus side, I no longer want to smack Torky in the face for being a whimper. On the other they’re no longer able to accomplish anything great. Instead there’s a lot of solid songs here, a lot of breezy catchy numbers about (surprise!) ghosts and riding trains and such, and no great statements about the standing of modern love and death. They’ve settled into “you’ll enjoy it while it’s on but you won’t miss it when it’s over” territory. As much as I miss nearly every song on that one great album, at least it isn’t a chore to get through, and I could conceivably play it around my more macho friends without shame. The only real loser is the leaden opener “Dear Hearts,” and the winners are numerous. But they’re all role player winners; songs for to lose in the first round of the song playoffs.

If Stars become a treadmill band then it’s a reasonable deal. They went for it all when they were young, usually missing embarrassingly but occasionally making something great. Now the songs are adults working jobs as functioning cogs in a churning indie song machine. At least its a change. But trust me about the ghosts.

On an unrelated note, the four extra songs that came with my version, why the heckfire were they not included on the CD? They’re four of the best songs here, including the freaking title track! Stop doing this to people, bands!



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