As the great American songstress Joni Mitchell said, “don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone”. Canada’s The Dears have in recent times exemplified this sentiment, overcoming a musical near-death experience to bring a fresh new body of work, Degeneration Street.
Having spent a the latter half of the last decade striving to match the success and acclaim of 2004′s No Cities Left, by 2008 the band had burned itself out, effectively splitting after 2008′s mixed Missiles. Having regrouped (albeit with a new drummer), Degeneration Street could in many ways be viewed as a make-or-break record. It’s a task which the band themselves have taken seriously, as evidenced by a foreboding sense of purpose and menace on opening track Omega Dog, a percussive five-minute epic turning a simple two chord riff into something best described as ‘stadium sized’.
Over the course of the album it becomes clear that epic and stadium sized are something which The Dears do with aplomb. Blood thunders along, lost in a sea of its own cacophonic and barely contained fury, while elsewhere Galactic Tides swells from nowhere to a soaring crescendo in a little over four and a half minutes and penultimate track 1854 broods and rumbles along for the course of its five. It’s all mesmerising stuff, perfectly showcasing the band’s rejuvenated sound and gift for songcraft.
But to paint The Dears as stadium rockers and nothing more would be both narrow-minded and wide of the mark. The album also showcases a more melodic, almost pop-orientated side to The Dears and, against expectations, this lighter-sounding material fits in surprisingly well with the louder and more anthemic numbers. The relentlessly infectious stomp of 5 Chords gives a hint of what of what The Dears at their most accessible can deliver, while Yesteryear (which bears a striking similarity to The Strokes‘ Someday) and the shimmering, beautific Unsung deliver the suckerpunch.
Most impressive is the way in which the album’s two central aspects compliment each other, and deliver an almost perfectly paced work. Never at any point does it feel like being too serious, or too lightweight. Some may question an album that’s all but an hour in length, but it never drags.
So can The Dears finally rest easy, having conjured up the magic that made them a critics’ favourite all those years ago? Yes, and by quite a margin too. This is a staggering record, displaying not only a golden streak of songwriting but also a band newly energised to their cause – making it a return to form of near biblical proportions. Highly recommended.