Album Reviews

Dubstar – Two

(Northern Writes) UK release date: 6 May 2022

Electronic duo return with new and meaningful songs to regain their status as top-level English songsmiths

Dubstar - Two “Is it asking too much to be given time, to know these songs and to sing them?” The opening lines of Stars, Dubstar’s wondrous debut song from 1995, were unexpectedly loaded with meaning for the band’s recent renaissance. Written when the band were in their early 20s, Stars was one of the many excellent songs on debut album Disgraceful that drew us into a captivating world of suburban, kitchen sink drama and intrigue.

27 years on and the second series of the drama is in full swing, for when Sarah Blackwood and Chris Wilkie reunited as Dubstar in 2018 it was by stealth. Building on their furtive early sessions they have documented once again their love of electronic pop music. With the album One under their belts, and fuelled by remote working during the pandemic, Dubstar have crafted ten new and meaningful songs for the ironically titled follow-up Two.

There are the same unerring observations on everyday life and its emotional dramas, now shot through with greater experience. These are bittersweet tales that tell of “exhilarating sorrow”, as Blackwood sings on Kissing To Be Unkind. “You can touch it, it’s so near!”

In this short couplet she encapsulates the feelings Two will cast on its listeners. The music may be more assertive and worldly wise, but Blackwood’s healthy penchant for a memorable lyrical vignette is retained. Immediately she is addressing the past on Token, with her eyes firmly on the future. “I’m waiting to feel something that feels like real love,” she professes, an assertive presence striding purposefully into the middle of the dancefloor rather than peeping out from the shadows.

The bolder approach reaps dividends on I Can See You Outside, a lovingly crafted pop song with a strong pull on the emotions as the chords shift at the centre of its chorus. Lighthouse has many layers to its construction. One of the most substantial songs on Two, it begins with Blackwood purging the memory of a significant other. “I wipe your impression from this chair that you sat on”, she sings, before the story turns sinister.

Its companion, Tears, continues the tales of control, but finds the release it seeks: “Here come the tears, without warning, waterfalls on the clothes you chose.” The outpouring continues, though Blood involves the other party. “I’ve waited years to see you cry, I never thought you’d ace it with goodbye.” There is humour to balance the cathartic tales of release, however. “You always look more approachable in casual shirts,” observes Blackwood in the excellent Hygiene Strip.

Two restores another missing link from the 1990s incarnation of Dubstar, as Stephen Maguire takes over production duties once again. His input is subtle but critical, choosing to build on the band’s strengths with pulsing electro beats to match the confident vocals. Tectonic Plates and Token have rock solid grooves and confident posture, while slower ballads Social Proof and the magnificent Kissing To Be Unkind show the sensitive heart within.

With the release of Two, Dubstar regain their status as top-level English songsmiths. Listening to the album is akin to slipping into a pair of familiar shoes, being careful to negotiate any sharp objects that might have sneaked into the toe end. Such is the duo’s way with a bittersweet tale, and British pop music is all the richer for having them back full time.

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Dubstar – Two
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