Who would have predicted that the year’s most thrilling and inventive ‘British’ album would in fact be delivered by a Montreal aesthete and his band? Had anyone in Britain actually heard of The Dears, would they have bet on the corpse of Britpop being reanimated and reconfigured by frontman Murray Lightburn, a cocksure Dickensian rogue who looks like he’s gone 10 rounds with life and been knocked down in each? Would they even have dared to suggest that this palest of white boy’s music could be (whisper it) hijacked by a black intellectual maverick?
The Dears are all about breaking conventions, and when you’re taking on the sacred cows of indie pop, you’d better be as good as you think you are. The Dears take as their touchstones The Smiths and mid-’90s Blur, a doubly dangerous thing to do when Lightburn’s vocals recall both Morrissey and Damon Albarn. Fortunately, The Dears are frequently even better than they believe, for the most part able to outrun these ghosts and bust through the structural constraints their influences impose, seemingly fearless in their pursuit of music of true pathos, gravity and swagger. This is seriously literate stuff, and all the better for it.
From the outset it’s clear that Lightburn’s intentions are precocious, crediting himself here as sole writer, producer and director. It’s his role as “director”?in the cinematic sense?that sets No Cities Left apart as he seeks to create a record that carries a narrative, both musical and lyrical, without becoming a turgid concept album. At times they do suffer from the weight of their inspirations?”Lost In The Plot” sounds worryingly like Gene?and, were this the film it dreams of, it would benefit from an intermission. But at its finest?”Pinned Together, Falling Apart”‘s blood-curdling denials of love lost, “Never Destroy Us” hurtling towards its unexpected and desperate d