Album art courtesy of Stars
Review by Caroline Moses
The latest album by Stars, the Montreal-based indie group, has a dreamy, upbeat musical feel, even as its lyrics paint a portrait of isolation and frustration. There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light opens with “Privilege,” which pairs electronic zips and warbles with a power-chord guitar sound and a refrain of “never got what you want.” Playing on the idea that relentless dream-seeking and frustration is very much a privileged problem, arising only after a baseline level of safety and comfort is achieved, the song does a great job of conveying this message without ever explicitly spelling it out. Pairing a song about sky-high goals unmet with the title “Privilege” does all the work for them, a canny songwriting move. The rest of the album also plays on this notion of the endless pursuit of a happiness that may or may not exist. The story of the record is very much an urban one, and a twenty-something one, interestingly for a group that has been around for nearly 15 years.
The vocal duty is evenly split between members Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan, and on songs where they sing together their voices blend capably. The effect is one where multiple narrators are separately sharing the same longings and fears. This is especially poignant in the song “Losing To You,” where it feels as if both members of a couple are sensing the other pulling away. “Losing To You” is by over a full minute the longest song on the album, and while it gets a bit repetitive, the spaciness underlines the distance growing between the narrators.
The characters of this record are plagued by loneliness, but they also bring it on themselves. This comes out most clearly in the track “Alone,” about an avoidant figure whose isolation is both lonely and freeing, as shown in the chorus when he says, “I want to live where there’s room to breath/Take one step closer and I swear I’ll leave alone,” or in the bridge when, in a plea to maintain this avoidant behavior, he says, “don’t make me leave you when I’ve come this far alone.” One confusing thing about this song is that the verses are written in third person while the choruses are written in first person. Still, the song manages to successfully paint a portrait of someone who both longs for intimacy and hates it. This ambivalent opinion of humanity continues on “We Called It Love,” which features the gutting refrain “I don’t believe people ever change, but I’ve changed.”
The album is mostly electronic-sounding, with lots of reverb and shimmery laser-like sounds interspersed, with the exception of “The Gift of Love,” a straight-ahead piano ballad and one of the better songs on the record. Musically, the album can be a bit repetitive, a collection of enjoyable songs that when listened to all at once sort of blend together. The lyrics, rather than the music, are the strength on this record, painting a complete portrait of urban isolation and dissatisfaction. I would also like to mention the beautiful cover art, which fits perfectly with the record. Of the times in a way that bands that have been around so long often aren’t, Stars has captured a feeling in detail with There Is No Love in Fluorescent Light.