The Dears have form when it comes to soundtracking the most traumatic events of our lives. Their breakthrough album, 2003’s No Cities Left, was released into an uncertain post 9/11 world, dominated by war and threats of economic collapse and its doomy yet romantic sound seemed to capture the mood of the times.
Seventeen years later, we have a global pandemic, an imminent worldwide recession, and a new Dears record. Lead singer Murray Lightburn has already noted the parallels between No Cities Lost and Lovers Rock, saying that you could draw a direct line between the two records, “like they’re interconnected”.
And it’s certainly true to say that Lovers Rock is no barrel of laughs. Song titles like I Know What You’re Thinking And It’s Awful, Instant Nightmare and We’ll Go Into Hiding give an impression of what to expect. Yet, as usual, Lightburn and his wife Natalia Yanchak – the main driving forces behind The Dears – have created some epically orchestral arrangements that turn potentially depressing music into something exhilarating.
Heart Of An Animal kicks things off in fine style, with an intro which nods to David Bowie‘s Heroes before Lightburn bellowing “lunacy feed our souls”. It’s a stirring opening and leads into the even better I Know What You’re Thinking And It’s Awful, which takes the tempo down a bit, but is no less brooding and unsettling for that.
Lightburn is on fine form throughout – vocally, he’s been compared to Morrissey for most of his career, but on Lovers Rock he’s more like a downbeat Damon Albarn. The wistful Too Many Wrongs sounds like it could be a bonus track from Blur‘s Think Tank album while the woozy, disorientating Stille Lost (featuring Jake Clemons, son of the late, great Clarence on saxophone) nods towards Albarn’s The Good The Bad & The Queen project.
For those looking for musical soundtracks to the current global situation, then Instant Nightmare! may prove suitable – it’s where The Dears turn up the bombast slightly with a big string section and lyrics like “This is an instant nightmare, and it’s like we’ll never wake up”. Probably the best moment is The Worst Of Us though, which has a chorus designed for jumping up and down to in a sweaty venue (remember them?) before a key change that somehow recalls Madness, and goes off in a whole new direction.
Lovers Rock probably won’t be for everyone – it occasionally becomes a bit too bombastic and doomy and lyrics like “We’re lost, and nobody gives a damn”, “We’re at the bottom of a trash pile” and “This is the Hell on Earth where in gods we’ll never trust again” may end up persuading people to push this aside, marking it as “maybe a bit much”.
Although that’s an understandable view, it would be a mistake, as The Dears very much subscribe to their fellow Canuck Leonard Cohen‘s opinion that “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. The closing We’ll Go Into Hiding sums that up: “We’re leaving this place tonight, building a better future… it’s gonna be alright”. A timely reminder that, no matter how dark things get, the bright light is always just round the corner.