Long time emotive devotees Stars are back with their follow-up to the consistently satisfying, if a bit too vapid, In Our Bedroom After the War. Although Bedroom wasn’t their most critically acclaimed effort, it found Stars in a pleasant groove that offered up several moments of gratifying potency, and in light of the more recent and excellent Sad Robots EP, Stars fans had reason to keep their hopes up for their fifth LP, The Five Ghosts.
Whether said fans are happy with The Five Ghosts will depend largely upon how committed they are to Stars’ creamy, soft-as-silk sound; as it turns out, a healthy dose of commitment will be required. In an age when synths are beginning to replace (if they haven’t already replaced) the guitar as the pop/rock building block instrument of choice, Stars’ increasing reliance on synths makes their already derivative brand of silky pop sound even less gripping. That is absolutely not to say that Stars cannot make a brilliant synth based song; for that you need look no further than Sad Robot EP’s “Going Going Gone [Live].” Unfortunately, inspired moments run far too sparse on The Five Ghosts, which stakes its life on fans being hungry for more of the same. To make matters worse, lead singers Amy Millan and Torque Campbell, who usually play off each other quite well, seem all to aware in their deliveries that this album is going through the motions.
There is a saving grace to be found in the fact that Stars make good filler, and none of these songs are particularly weak or out of place. Even the off-kilter “We Don’t Want Your Body” justifies itself with a peppy chorus featuring lines about cheap ecstasy and boughten sex. The album does feature its share of highlights, most clearly the soapy “Changes.” “Wasted Daylight” and “Fixed” are accessible picker-uppers that could’ve held their head high on any Stars album. Stars shyly poke at a few new ideas in the latter half of the album, and although none of them really take off, they’re engaging enough to save the album from becoming too sleepy. For the most part you have to be in this for the sound of the songs mores than the songs themselves, but I’d be remiss to give the impression that the album lacks any redeeming qualities.
The Five Ghosts is by no means a bad album. In fact, in the grand scheme of things its probably above average, with several songs that make it worth revisiting. However, when a band such as Stars offers plenty of moments of promise throughout their career but fails to bring it together in a complete statement, it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed. If you haven’t tried Stars yet, The Five Ghosts will give you a perfectly adequate sampling of what they’re all about, but long time fans know that Stars are capable of much more than “adequate.”