The Dears - Degeneration Street

I've read several reviews of Degeneration Street already. The mix is pretty wide open. Either a reviewer finds virtue in the overloaded way The Dears offer just about any album (this isn't the first case of their music being metaphor heavy and forceful), or the reviewer finds the lack of cohesiveness in style and tone to be a crippling defect. It's just about impossible for me to take an objective look at this new album. I have loved The Dears since 2006's Gang of Losers, so you'll get renouncement satisfaction from me. The thing is, either you enjoy this band or you don't. And I wouldn't say that about most artists because some do make regrettable follow-ups to their greatest works. Even my dear The Dears, with 2008's Missiles, missed for me. And while that album received some solid praise, I felt that it was so dour and spare, so pared down and emptily sad, that it just never felt like the band I fell in love with. It's not, in retrospect, a bad album, but I think it illustrates an important concern. Calling an album based on what you want from it or expect from it is dangerous. And it's especially dangerous when we start claiming that one form of direct, hit-you-over-the-head emotionalism is suddenly more overwrought than its predecessor.

My point is, I guess, that Degeneration Street is much more like Gang of Losers, and even 2003's No Cities Left, than Missiles ever could have tried to be. This new release brings back the anthems and heartfelt, if often schmaltzy, ballads to love and protests against the modern conditions of ignorance and irony. Murray Lightburn and the band he has now is quite different from the one that played on those earlier records, but his sentimentality and strength in crafting prog-rocky, poetically-interested, emotionally-informed songs has not suddenly evaporated. Yes, just like any of their other releases, this album is far from perfect. Lightburn and Co. may not be built for an insane opus of incredible proportions, but they play songs that can stick with you. The Dears are a melodramatic band. That's a genre choice. And if that's not something you can get into and enjoy, then it's not your bag. For example, 2001 me, assuming I was writing these reviews probably doesn't get Jay-Z's The Blueprint. I didn't know rap and hip-hop back then. I didn't care for it. I wouldn't have understood the successes or the nuances or the subtleties. If I didn't like it, I'd be wrong, in the reviewer sense. It's a great album, and my illiteracy wouldn't excuse a poor review.

Pitchfork gave Degeneration Street a 2.4. That's akin to saying, this album sounds like your grandparents fucking in the alley behind a porno theater. That is to say, completely nonessential. Don't even look at it. Let alone pass money in a transaction to acquire this music. I disagree. This isn't a great album. It's not the best that The Dears have ever done. But, there are gems in there. "Blood," "Lamentation," "Galactic Tides," "Stick With Me Kid," "Tiny Man," "Unsung," and "1854" are all good songs. If you like The Dears, you will like these tracks. They feature the thick, mournful strength of Lightburn's voice. Lots of synth, guitars, powering drums and songs that build and build and explode mixed with soulful, teary outcries of desperation. That's The Dears. This sound is their M.O. If you know their discography, you know that is overloaded, melodramatic anthem is what they're up to. And "Lamentation" even has a hint of Radiohead-worship in there. What you get with Degeneration Street is a lot of epic, sweeping music that wears its heart on its sleeve. And it won't be the best version of The Dears you could hear, but it's still pretty goddamn good, cohesive or not.

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