It’s not often that a band debuts a full album in concert more than a month before its release, but that’s the way Stars chose to showcase The Five Ghosts. Having had that month to let the music gestate, I was eager to see if the recorded output could match the live show. After a May filled with releases but few that really delivered, I’m happy to find an album I can love from start to finish.
Those who have heard the band’s Sad Robot EP will have a good idea of the direction Stars went with The Five Ghosts. To put it succinctly, the album’s thesis is down with strings, up with synthesizers. The DJ set Torquil Campbell played prior to their performance hinted at major influences, most notably New Order and Pet Shop Boys. You could say this is Stars meets the ’80s. I suppose titling the album The Five Ghosts and peppering song lyrics with mentions of said ghosts makes this somewhat of a concept album, but thematically, it’s familiar turf, dealing with love, past and current, returned and unrequited, alive and (un?)dead.
‘Dead Hearts’ starts the album off strongly, reminiscent of ‘Your Ex-Lover Is Dead’, with both Campbell and Amy Millan sharing lead vocals. The mood shifts after the opener, with a slew of upbeat songs that are, dare I say it, rather bouncy. ‘Wasted Daylight’, an ode to a wasted day in bed, feels very current, which is refreshing. Stars’ albums tend to tilt toward the moody after-effects of relationships, so it’s nice to see when they revel in the joy of the moment. It’s still recognizably Stars, but somehow lighter. ‘Fixed’ skews fairly closely to the ‘Ageless Beauty’ template as the obvious first single, but both ‘I Died So I Could Haunt You’ and the glitchy, drum machine-fuelled ‘We Don’t Want Your Body’ seem equally worthy of mass appeal. ‘The Passenger’ somehow managed to worm its way into my head based solely on the “oo oo” breakdown of the chorus. Worn out and coming out of the concert hall, it was the tune that remained in my head for the walk home.
The Five Ghosts was released on the band’s own imprint, Soft Revolution, and it’s easy to see why they were so confident putting it out themselves. It’s one of their better albums, and with a discography including Heart and Set Yourself on Fire, that’s no small compliment.