As the Dears announce a much welcome Liverpool tour date, Getintothis’ Del Pike looks back on the career of Montreal’s finest also-rans.
If ever a band earned the title of Most underrated more than The Dears, then I’d like to hear them.
Formed in 1995 in Montreal, this most elegant of indie rock bands gained something of a cult following, but despite endless touring and festival appearances they have never quite made their mark outside of their native Canada in the same way as their not so far removed indie bretheren, Arcade Fire; Both from Montreal and similarly fronted by a husband and wife team.
In a Fall-like structure, vocalist Murray Lightburn is the only constant member alongside Natalia Yanchak (keyboards / vocals) who joined in 1998, with other band members drifting in and out whenever required. The band who return to Liverpool for a gig at the O2 Academy on October 13, have a proven track record of lush arrangements and heart-felt vocals that set pulses racing and hearts lifting, but they are equally willing to tackle political issues with as much passion and ease.
Starting off in low key style with a run of releases that included the Orchestral Pop Noir Romantique and Protest EPs and the slow burning End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story album, it took a while for the band to find their feet. Their 2003 album No Cities Left was the signal that they had arrived. The music press hailed them alongside Bloc Party as the next big thing but it didn’t quite turn out that way.
With unavoidable but not unwelcome comparisons to Morrissey and Damon Albarn, both of whom Lightburn was a self-proclaimed fan, the album offered rich, fully rounded compositions and dare we say anthems. The album centrepiece Lost in the Plot becoming an instant classic. Despite a robust amount of airplay on the then popular MTV2 and quality radio stations the track still only hit 49 in the UK charts, a crime.
The follow up album, 2006’s Gang of Losers fared slightly better, and possessed a true slice of pop genius in Ticket to Immortality, a single that failed to chart but provided the band with a benchmark standard.
Ensuing albums Missiles and Degeneration Street possibly lacked the spark of their predecessors but focussed more intently on the relationship between the two key members, bringing the details of their romance to the fore in often heart-breaking minutiae. The albums also included returning members on an almost rotating system.
2015’s Times Infinity Volume One received positive reviews despite a delayed UK release of eighteen months and a lack of obvious single material. Suggested by many to be played solely as an album, a rare thing in the download era, it has become another cult release. The inevitable Times Infinity Volume Two released this month promises more of the same, with a close-up of Murray and Natalia smooching on the sleeve, there’s a hint of the Lennons’ Double Fantasy in the air. In fairness the intensity and candour of the pairs openness about their relationship really does echo John and Yoko’s 70s output.
Lead single Of Fisticuffs is certainly catchy and could offer a new direction at this late stage. No steady Dears-like build ups here, straight into an Arcade Fire like sonic assault.
Gazing back over nearly two decades of Dears recorded greatness, we offer our Top Ten tracks. For the un-initiated here lies a strong recommendation to dip in and possibly discover your new favourite old band.
- End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story – End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story (2000)
A song that places the band right where they were in 2000. The Dears’ sound is there, but not quite honed. Any early similarities with Damon Albarn are justified in the theatrical, almost Lionel Bart-esque vocals that could also be detected on the Blur B-side Song from an Imaginary Film. There are many moments in The Dears’ career that seem to draw inspiration from this Blur oddity.
- 22 The Death of all the Romance – No Cities Left / Single (2003)
Blur comparisons continue in a cutesy / bittersweet animated video reminiscent of Coffee + TV. With almost as many mood changes as Bohemian Rhapsody, this single from The Dears’ second album is as dramatic a song as you could wish for with Murray and Natalia feeding each other lines and harmonising frantically throughout. It’s typical Dears fayre with a theatrical twist. Dive in and enjoy say we.
- To Hold and Have – Times Infinity Volume One (2015)
A more recent example of the band’s ability to deliver a killer tune with seeming ease; light acoustics in this version and controlled sentimental lyrics. Proof if needed that The Dears can still deliver tunes that make you shiver within the first five seconds. The secret to the bands appeal may be the commitment to what they are delivering, Murray Lightburn is sincere and boy oh boy you can feel it.
- Lights Off – Missiles (2008)
Popularised by an edited down key appearance in TV’s Gossip Girl, this track is a meditated rhythmic example of The Dears’ pop sensibility, or so we’re led to believe. About a quarter way through this eight-minute epic, the track goes a bit proggy and dips in and out of moods and moments. The Dears do this often and it just works. They have been compared by some to Genesis on occasion and its moments like this that earn them that not so bizarre accolade.
- Who are You, Defenders of the Universe – No Cities Left (2003)
A prime cut from The Dears best album, Defenders is ridiculously appealing from its staccato 60s guitars at the start and sinister lyrics that follow. The track builds up and becomes classic Dears as Lightburn wails “I can’t help you – you can’t help me!” The final section “Its not an impossible situation” is as haunting as it is mesmeric. A perfect entry point for those in need of a Dears fix. For those old enough to remember David Arnold’s haunting love theme from Vic and Bob’s Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) re-boot, this outro is almost identical.
- Whites Only Party – Gang of Losers (2006)
While the anti-racist lyrics of this track may seem simplistic / idealistic and the title a little obvious, it’s still by far the most commercial of the band’s singles and the sentiment is positive. Choppy guitars and retro drumming make it sound initially like an old school party tune or even a Your Arsenal era Morrissey track. The urge to play on repeat is strong. The outro is pure Moz.
- Don’t Lose the Faith – No Cities Left (2003)
This is pure Smiths. Descending Johnny Marr guitars and lyrical lamenting, the song has a heavenly chorus that wouldn’t feel out of place on Hatful of Hollow. That aside this is one of The Dears’ most beautiful songs, that even slides in a little Beatles guitar solo in the middle. Charming is the key word here.
- Crisis 1 & 2 – Missiles (2008)
This is The Dears doing what they do best. Harmonising between Murray and Natalia with the rhythmic metronomic pattern of a see saw, a complex yet catchy tune, a rollercoaster of peaks and troughs that somehow lead to a delicious conclusion. A midway point between the big band delivery of the early albums and the husband and wife intricacies to follow. As the title suggests, the song falls into two halves and it’s at that point “Gonna make my way to the railway track” that you can count every single hair rising on your back. Yes we say.
- Lost in the Plot – No Cities Left (2003)
Could have easily been number one here. Lost in the Plot was for many, their intro to the sound of The Dears, and remains a solid blueprint of everything to follow. So many moments to cherish in another complex song. Murray is channelling Morrissey once more, but the more heavyweight Queen is Dead / Southpaw Grammar Moz rather than the twee wallflower version. Like every great Dears song it appears to be a game of two halves, possibly three In this case. Without doubt their signature song that should have left Bloc Party and Arcade Fire cowering but for reasons unknown to man, woman and child, failed to ignite. Start here…
- Ticket to Immortality – Gang of Losers (2006)
The closest The Dears come to producing a perfect pop song. It’s a positive rousing four minutes that is as uplifting as Starland Vocal Band’s Afternoon Delight, yes that uplifting. There’s political rabble rousing in there too, ensuring that the sugar doesn’t get too sweet. It appears to be Murray’s attack on the record industry who are ignoring him despite all his efforts and “Hanging out with all the Pariahs”. The final part could be a love song to himself, a re-assurance that if you hang on “The world is really gonna love you”. Seems like he’s still waiting.
The Dears will be playing 02 Academy on October 13 and Times Infinity Volume Two will be available from July 14.