To the melancholic, take solace. After three years of wait, Montreal, Quebec indie six-piece The Dears are back with their latest effort, Degeneration Street. Inside: Murray Lightburn finally escapes comparisons to Morrissey, The Dears strip things down a bit, and why there is a harpsichord in every goddamn song?
I don’t actually know why there is a harpsichord in every goddamn song.
Be warned, fans of past albums. Degeneration Street doesn’t feature many complex arrangements or thick atmospheric elements. To the contrary, The Dears’ latest seems to be either a legitimate attempt at simplification or a less-commendable shot at charting. Whichever it is, Degeneration Street is a departure from the bands’ previous, more ambitious efforts.
The violins and harpsichord on opening track “Omega Dog” will be warmly received by fans of Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique, but only if they can get past the agonizingly minimalistic first half. “Omega Dog” transitions (albeit VERY awkwardly) into “5 Chords,” which is done in archetypal sad-British-love-song style. Admittedly, Lightburn’s vocal delivery is decidedly Morrissey-esque here, but rest assured his vocals are stylistically very different in other tracks. “5 Chords” is the sort of song that sounds familiar despite having never heard it – an advantageous trait in this case, making it one of the more memorable tracks on the album.
Conversely, “Blood,” the next track chronologically, sounds a bit too familiar. The chord progression in “Blood” has been done to death, and is salvaged only by Lightburn’s impassioned vocals and some clever guitar work. Do away with the harpsichord and “Blood” would find a better home amongst any number of generic early-2000s post-grunge bands. Luckily the next song makes up for this disappointment – “Thrones” is another pop-noir nugget. Instrumentally, “Thrones” is one of the strongest songs on the album, featuring a full, atmospheric sound and line-oriented guitars. The lyrics are unforgettable, Lightburn leading into the chorus with “Not a single of us has the guts to bear a cross/Do you?”
The latter part of the album kicks off with “Lamentation,” which is not quite as gloomy as it sounds, but is definitely grinding. “Torches” is an instrumental track that essentially makes up for the overall lack of ambience on the album. “Easy Suffering” and “1854” are both fairly accessible, and aren’t bad standalone tracks. Each is a decent song, but also highly forgettable. Thankfully, there are a few saving graces wedged in the second half of Degeneration Street. Dynamic as it is infectious, “Yesteryear” can only be described as “dejectedly upbeat”. “Stick With Me Kid” is driving – its fuzzy guitars and tasteful repetition exemplify high-energy indie rock. Tracks like “Tiny Man” and the album’s title track are growers – both a little too slow upon first listen and distinctly gloomy.
The major downfall of Degeneration Street is its simplicity. Tracks like “Yesteryear” prove that The Dears have the capacity to compose exciting and complex pieces of music that retain pop sensibilities. Unfortunately, most of Degeneration Street forgoes the former completely for the latter. While none of the songs here are downright awful, the album lacks the candidness of Gang of Losers. Still, The Dears’ latest has some gems that make it worth a listen, while fans and sad sacks everywhere will most likely be more partial to it.