In the grim, grey, lumpen dark ages of dadrock – a depressing time when chest-beating, testosterone-charged, regressive macho-bloke idiocy was the norm, blokes in bands were indistinguishable from blokes at the football, and everyone wore parkas – The Dears never would have stood a chance. They would have been fed to the Ocean Colour Scene-loving masses for having the audacity to write songs laced with literate, heart-swelling hope and deliver them with romantic surges of orchestral vision.
But in today’s climate – with Mozzer returning triumphant from his self-imposed LA exile to lead a new bread of literate, intelligent rockers into the light (The Futureheads, The Libertines), and even Bob Smith coming back from the dead to remind us that, while boys don’t cry, actually they kinda do and that’s alright really – never has it been more acceptable to own a library card and an electric guitar.
And so The Dears, a six-piece orchestral rock treat from Montreal, Canada, led by the enigmatic Murray Lightburn and sounding like Marvin Gaye fronting The Smiths while the London Philharmonic Orchestra has a stab at the Burt Bacharach songbook, are probably the best new band in the world right now. Except they’re not really that new. Indeed, there have been reports of Lightburn making transatlantic trips to Camden’s Britpop mecca The Good Mixer in 1995, with the intention of thrusting a cassette of fledgling Dears recordings into the hands of Graham Coxon.
Ten years on, The Dears’ second long-player is a dynamic statement of intent: progressive works of tragic, operatic indie rock joy that provide a showcase for the talents of Lightburn’s sublime, satin-smooth voice. Witness the grandiose cloud-tickling pomp of ‘22: The Death Of All The Romance’ or the closing-time wail of last single ‘We Can Have It’ and you’ll understand the sincerity and idiosyncratic, smile-inducing charm of The Dears’ tortured frontman.
Meanwhile, forthcoming single ‘Lost In The Plot’ is like bonkers love-rocker Julian Cope writing lyrics to an undiscovered Bach symphony, while ‘Never Destroy Us’ is Blur being bashed around their collective head by a fistful of Morrissey’s gladioli. All of a sudden Lightburn’s suitcase of UK-bound air-miles vouchers makes perfect sense.
And while Lightburn’s beatnik bedsit romance can on occasion be clumsy, and to an extent wincingly sentimental, the charm of his hushed couplets is redeemable by their very quirk. Take ‘Pinned Together, Falling Apart’ and its camp cry of “absolutely horrified by the thought of losing you” and you might have well spotted Lightburn in the act of craning his eyes across the sleeve notes to ‘The Queen Is Dead’. Likewise ‘We Can Have It’’s repeated coda of “you’re not alone” sounds like sixth-form poetry on paper. But within the context of the song and delivered with Murray’s heart-on-sleeve preacherman zeal, it’s a rousing mantra of hope.
‘No Cities Left’ isn’t a perfect work. It’s 15 minutes too long and lacking definite focus. Still, minor flaws aside, it suggests that this is a truly special band in the making. The Dears are sexual, knowledgeably sensitive beasts, uniquely gracefully and delicately ornate. A band that folk can believe in, and trustworthy in the task of carrying the emotional baggage invested in them by those who do so. They’ve got the glint of mischievous zest in their eyes that made Morrissey so very adept at articulating outsider torment through the medium of articulate lovingly crafted pop, as well as a mid-’90s Blur-esque skill at making pop music sound as resoundingly special as we all know it should be.
And so consider ‘No Cities Left’ a sturdy foundation on which to build for future greatness. If they can keep an eye on some irksome loose threads then, come album number three, The Dears could become the truly special band they promise to.