The Dears | Missiles (Dangerbird)

cd_dears.jpgWhat truly makes Missiles a great album is its unpredictability.







Peeking at the ridiculously breathless information packet accompanying the disc, it appears that Dears mastermind Murray Lightburn has whittled the band’s lineup down to a core duo of himself and keyboard player Natalia Yanchak. In a way, this deconstruction mirrors the trajectory of the band’s most recent output. 2003’s near-definitive No Cities Left was a layered, sprawling record, nearly as meticulously focused as Morrissey on the seedy, heartsick aspects of love and lust. However, with 2006’s Gang of Losers, economy became Lightburn and Co.’s major obsession. It didn’t totally abandon complexity, but appeared to attempt to force each song into a simple three- to four-minute box from which it could not escape, which bestowed upon it a dissatisfying rigidity. Instead, Missiles is allowed a revelatory fluidity. The album stands apart in the band’s catalogue by its songs’ willingness to stray from their original context. As a songwriting technique, this kind of musical morphing can often lead to interminable jams, or to tunes that offer no focus and simply drift away with no resolution. Here, each song is simply allowed to be what it wants to be: three minute pop song, ten minute epic, or twisting mini-symphony. It’s refreshing.

This isn’t a complete overhaul of the Dears’ sound. Lightburn is still infatuated with the symphonic, with layered sounds and dramatic interpretation. And of course, he still sounds as if he likes Damon Albarn a little too much. That’s not a knock; his rich baritone anchors each song, whether it’s intoning a fiscal mantra on the jagged, martial "Money Babies," or desperately pleading on "Saviour," the 11-minute gospel-tinged album finale. Opening track "Disclaimer" explores similarly loose territory, floating in on a cloud of jazzy saxophone before finally picking up steam and ending in a rave-up of feedback and the repeated call to "come back." The diversity on display is remarkable and invigorating.

Album standout "Dream Job" coasts on a languid ’60s bop before shifting up a gear, firing up the acoustic guitar, and fading away into a fulfilling outro of Fleetwood Mac guitar. "Lights Off" is tender, but also epic without being oppressive, getting full mileage out of its jaunty banjo-esque riffs, doo-wop ballad middle section, and late-period Beatles guitar to see it out. "Demons" is, at first, all Moog squonks and ominous chords, before finally hatching into an up-tempo, piano led chorus of harmonized vocals. Even songs that initially appear slight often end up becoming something completely different. "Crisis 1 & 2" begins as an uninteresting Yanchak-sung dirge. But just as the urge to hit the skip button arrives, Lightburn enters out of nowhere and leads the song out with a powerful Motown stomp. It’s a shock to the system, nearly revelatory by simply, and instantaneously, becoming worthwhile.

What truly makes Missiles a great album is its unpredictability. While it doesn’t present the uncompromising overarching vision of No Cities Left, instead it offers the joy of discovery. It’s an album that you can listen to when you’re not feeling morose, when you haven’t suffered through the "death of all the romance." The sense of "anything goes," coupled with a batch of strong, melodic songs, a liberal dose of the Dears’ trademark orchestral melancholy, and a welcome touch of lightheartedness makes this their most endlessly listenable album to date. A- | Mike Rengel

RIYL: The last two Blur albums, Spiritualized, ‘60s pop, Morrissey’s worldview

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