The Dears have succumbed to the grim state of the world on their eighth album, ‘Lovers Rock’. Contrary to the title, the tracklist paints a bleak picture, with names such as ‘Instant Nightmare!’, ‘The Worst In Us’ and ‘Play Dead’ suggesting that the Montreal indie rock band plan on taking us for a gloomy ride.
Opener ‘Heart Of An Animal’ sets upon a theatrical alt-rock path with jaunty keys and eerie operatic instrumentation. There’s a Tim Burton-style darkness here, an early sign that the group have gone to town on the whole apocalypse thing. “Now we’re at the bottom of a trash pile“, frontman Murray Lightburn sings, backed by jabbing guitar fills. He makes Morrissey sound like an eternal optimist: “I can certainly feel decay crumbling inside us / And the weight from the rubble’s gonna take me down.”
It’s a little overbearing, to be honest – and we’re only just getting started. ‘‘I Know What You’re Thinking And It’s Awful’ features more mournful keys, courtesy of Natalia Yanchak, who happens to be Lightburn’s wife. Imagine these two at a dinner party.
The Dears, comprised of that husband-wife duo and a rotating band line-up, are now two-and-a-half decades into their career. A lot’s happened since their breakthrough second album ‘No Cities left’, which was released in 2003, a fact reflected in the velvety depth of their instrumentals. Yet as lyrics such as “Ooh – I can’t forget it / I can’t forget it – I’m not over you”, from ‘I Know What You’re Thinking…’, demonstrate the lack of lyrical inventiveness here.
‘Instant Nightmare’ is another crisis-themed ballad, with marching Smashing Pumpkins-style guitars, a string section and probing ray-gun like synths. It’s one of the grittier, more satisfying moments on this uneven record. Elsewhere ‘Stille Lost’ treads a more gothic route, underpinned by a percussive beat plucked from punk Bauhaus‘ ‘Bela Lugosi’, before they throw in some brass for the sake of experimentalism.
The more this album wears on, the more it feels a world away from the band who once grabbed attention with that charming and vibrant 2003 album. ‘Lovers Rock’ features moments that will satisfy those who’ve stuck by the band this far, but it ultimately feels like The Dears are running out of gas.