THE DEARS - Degeneration St
With some bands you get a sense after two or three albums that they are forever destined to play the blushing bridesmaid, relegated to the lower reaches of lists which begin with the names of acts your vaguely pop-literate co-worker might have heard of. On occasion the sense turns out to be misguided. In 1987, for example, an aspiring Sheffield combo would have understood the phrase 'you’ll end up like Pulp' as a stern warning against the perils of self-indulgence rather than a promise of cultural cachet to come. But mostly the sense seems to know its stuff. The hallmark of the bridesmaid band is this: while it’s difficult to point to any particular aspect of their schtick and say 'this is what’s wrong' it’s even more difficult to hold up the schtick as a whole and deny that there’s something Not Quite Right about it.
Step forward Montreal’s The Dears, whose fifth studio album Degeneration Street will now present itself to receive the kind of damnation with faint praise that causes members of bridesmaid bands the world over to ooze a resigned, here-we-go-again coo and contemplate a career in agriculture. It’s not a bad record (they knew I was going to say that) and in the Eighties-MTV 'alternative' rock-lite rush of ‘Thrones’ it does have one genuinely great pop moment, which as far as I’m aware is more than can be said for any of its predecessors. Well, OK, the title track of Gang Of Losers came close before hitting the chorus and choking on the pomposity of its own sentiment but – as any bridesmaid will tell you – the whole thing with close is that it’s not quite there. ‘Thrones’ is better than close. It’s also better than this ridiculous bridesmaid metaphor I appear to have saddled myself with, but let’s just plough on and hope nobody notices. Think Brotherhood meets mid-period Psychedelic Furs. Ask your dad to help.
There are other highlights. They knew I was going to say that, too. ‘Omega Dog’ is a shrewd choice of opener, its drum machine pulse and loping, reggaefied bassline promising a minimal, stripped-down Dears that for a few precious minutes we don’t know the rest of the album isn’t going to deliver. And there’s not much amiss with ‘5 Chords’, although critical responses to this track I’ve seen elsewhere prompt the depressing realisation that you could record an orchestra of household appliances and, provided you stuck that snare-kick-snare backbeat on it some genius would describe the result as 'Motown'. But there are too many songs that despite their clever, baroque arrangements don’t make any lasting impression, and at 60 minutes the album’s longueurs are just too bloody long: there’s an awful sinking moment at the end of overblown epic ‘1854’ where you’re convinced the fat lady must have sung, but then it turns out that there’s a whole other overblown epic to go. And this one has one of those sax solos you get in adverts for aftershave. It’s hard not to finish the album through gritted ears.
Autopsy for the living, then. It all went wrong for The Dears in 2007. The reasons Simon Raymonde has given for dropping them from Bella Union after they’d delivered Gang Of Losers hint at exactly the kind of Not Quite Rightness alluded to above, and this was just as the mere fact of being on Bella Union became seen by the pop media as a guarantee of quality. It’s an unlovable album, for sure. But it’s not The Dears’ fault that 2007 saw another Montreal outfit cement itself into the mainstream and pretty much take out a patent on layered, tuneful, angst-ridden apocalyptic bombast with questionable but well-meaning lyrics. Tough luck, Dears. No, really. That’s zeitgeists for you. Hurry hurry. Buy now while stocks last. On the other hand, both acts had from 2007 to 2010 to consider their next move. One of them came up with The Suburbs, a record five minutes longer but infinitely less interminable than Degeneration Street, and one that nearly a year after its release, and despite all the faintly repulsive acceptance that’s been spunked upon it by the kind of people who can discuss the latest U2 waxing without giggling, still makes me smile. And the other one… didn’t.