Degeneration Street is out now and the verdict is in – it’s a flat out fantastic piece of music, The Dears’ career achievement so far. Read this killer review by Dave Bidini in the National Post and marvel at his prose:
Record of the Month Club: Degeneration Street by The Dears
By Dave Bidini
Canadian music is finally pear-shaped, thank the Lord. It used to be that the head was Rush and Neil Young and kd lang and Arcade Fire and BTO, while the ankles supported all of these fine little bands trying to climb up and hang off the body’s belt buckle, only to find out that there was no waist, no middle. We once produced only big and small bands, but now the good and scrappy have a place to live, be and play; selling a few thousand records, playing cities with nice, 500-seat theatres and, when their new record comes out, talking to Jian and Rich about their direction and choice of producer and why they used a Mellotron on song four and what’s it like to be living together in a big house in Hamilton, anyway?
There is a flagon of examples: Luke Doucet, Jim Bryson, The Weakerthans (not to mention Jim Bryson with The Weakerthans), Veda Hille, The Constantines (RIP), Hey, Rosetta!, Dan Mangan, Amelia Curran and Hawksley Workman, among others. Some are a little bigger, or a little smaller, than others, but together, they thicken rock ’n’ roll’s waistline, a sign of modest prosperity in a business where the head is shrinking and the feet are sore and tired from a lifetime of carrying around such weight.
Montreal’s The Dears are one of those belt-buckle bands, and, if Degeneration Street, their sixth studio album, is any indication, they are about to become the rhinestone jewel on that movement’s gleaming waist-plate. Writing about The Dears, and espousing their strengths, has never been easy because The Dears are are a very, very good band (they are also my band’s label mates, so let me get that out of the way now). The Dears are not neo-punk-ska-swing and they are not Lenny Kravtiz’s new discovery and they did not write the theme song to Tangled 2 and none of the members are the sons or daughters of corrupt public officials. They are stolid in their music-making, and relentlessly interesting, and although their formlessness is a huge part of their appeal, it probably means that Canadian rock ’n’ roll won’t ever use them for a hat. But that’s OK, too. Their music has too much depth and detail to be appreciated only from afar. Each time you listen to this record, you listen closer, and with each listen, more is revealed.
Murray Lightburn is The Dears’ singer. His range, timbre, feel and emotional capacity make him sound, sequentially on Degeneration Street, like Prince, Burton Cummings, Paul Weller, David Bowie, Ozzy, a Tielli (more John than Martin), Declan McManus, Alun Piggins and, on Thrones, Howard Moon of the Mighty Boosh singing The Ice Flow Song. Of course, like any great singer, he sounds like himself, too: self-assured in both roars and whispers.
If there is any justice in rock ’n’ roll in Canada — and the jury is still out — the record’s second song, 5 Chords, should be both a Shoppers Drug Mart staple and the track that makes the parents of Indie Kids understand (“We should be home tonighttt”). Lightburn’s voice is the track’s focus, and unlike many of his peers, there are no spaces around the performance’s structure or delivery. His voice fills the song the way Bono filled New Year’s Day or the way Bowie swam inside Look Back in Anger. Because of the elusive nature of The Dears’ sound, putting Lightburn in the class of those singers is the easiest thing the reviewer has to do.
As a band, The Dears have no hook, but as songwriters, they have a multitude. If Tiny Man sounds like something leftover from Super Furry Animals’ Rings Around the World, then Easy Sufferings borrows from Steve Harley’s best work. The album’s closing — and title — track is a five-minute journey that imagines The Carpenters slathered in an expressive, post-bop sensibility. It begins as a lovely, slow ballad before becoming absorbed in a mess of gnarled synthetics, a languid swing procession that loses its way in an encroachment of noise. It’s a stirring moment, and with Lightburn’s vocal towering above the mix, it’s as emotional as anything I’ve heard since this column started almost 12 months ago.
Degeneration Street — the name evokes the equally fine middle-classic, The Weakerthans’ Reconstruction Site — is The Dears’ best record, and probably the best Canadian record of the year, so far. What happens to it now is obviously owing to the nature of music in our country. It will get heard in the cool clubs and cafés; on the campus stations and CBC; on AUX and maybe George and maybe even Fallon or Craig Ferguson. The Dears will tour and have great shows and showcase a band at their creative peak for a growing pack of eager fans. And while the middle will continue to hold them close, excuse The Dears if they turn their eyes to what’s above. Maybe something will click and they will be recognized as being more than just very, very good. Degeneration Street, at least, is deserving of such attention.