Stars honed the songs on their new album in a rehearsal space above the Royal Phoenix nightclub in Montreal. The band claim that the location informed the nature of the album’s songs: “The sub-bass throb coming from the club below our studio was undeniably and unavoidably influential. It motivated us to out-throb the throb”, explains drummer Pat McGee. It’s an enticing prospect: Stars’ brand of ‘sophisti-pop’, influenced by the likes of Prefab Sprout and The Blue Nile, ought to survive a nudge into more uptempo, hedonistic territory.
And, indeed, the “throb” that McGee speaks of is all over the urgent-sounding opener From The Night. The track that follows, This Is The Last Time, hauls the listener immediately back into safer territory: it’s a perky, chugging indie rock number. But, for all its lack of innovation, This Is The Last Time is the better song: its melody flows easily and intuitively. From The Night, meanwhile, sounds like Stars’ attempt to emulate the epic disco sweep of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. However, the constituent elements don’t quite gel and the transition into the big, euphoric chorus feels unearned.
The opening brace of tracks encapsulates the problem with No One Is Lost. Stars’ commitment to their new-found disco sound is evident only on four of the album’s eleven tracks; the band might have been better off dividing the record into two halves – one ‘dance’, one ‘indie’, to put it crudely – as the current sequencing only serves to highlight the tentative nature of the band’s experimentation. Moreover, the best songwriting on the record is found on those tracks that most closely resemble the Stars of old.
Ironically, given the pre-release hype about the album’s uptempo nature, the album’s saving grace is its ballads: No Better Place, What Is To Be Done? , Turn It Up and Look Away are all quite lovely; the latter boasts the brilliantly mopey line “toughen up, Valentine’s Day wasn’t meant for our kind anyway”. (The album’s only true stinker is Trap Door, whose chorus, bizarrely, brings to mind Sex Bomb by Tom Jones and Mousse T.)
No One Is Lost closes with its title track, a bona fide dance-pop song featuring the refrain “Put your hands up ‘cause everybody dies”. As expressions of mortality go, it doesn’t hold a candle to The Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize?? and it feels like an uncomfortably on-the-nose attempt to fuse melancholia and euphoria. As with most of the album’s weaker moments, it feels self-conscious and forced: the musical equivalent of the kind of ‘fun’ one finds on a corporate away day.
Hints of a better version of the album can be found on You Keep Coming Up. Ignoring the clumsy drugs reference of the title, it’s by far the most successful attempt at the band’s new sound. Unlike From The Night or the title track, it doesn’t sound like Stars are trying to “out-throb the throb”: instead, the synths fit the insidious melody like a glove and singers Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell’s voices intertwine to delicious effect.
No One Is Lost isn’t a bad record: most of its songs are put together with care and the results are highly listenable. It’s just a shame the band seemed to lose their nerve in its execution. For now, the “throb” of the nightclub below remains tantalisingly, frustratingly out of reach.