For their latest release, In Our Bedroom after the War, Stars again made the best album they could: a Stars album. If there was any temptation to drift to the alt-country twang of singer-guitarist Amy Millan’s solo work, or the guitar rock melting pot that is Broken Social Scene, it doesn’t show up on this record. There are brief deviations into particular musical motifs like funk or showtune, but those neither last long nor work very well.
The band’s peculiar sound, a sort of indie baroque pop filtered through synths and rock guitars, is more focused than their two previous releases. The first single “Take Me To the Riot” is most successful at cohesively mixing instrumentation and shifting styles enough to display the band’s progress. The low-key, New-Wave-influenced verse gives way to pounding eighth notes that lead into a full-blown rock chorus. The chorus also gives singer Torquil Campbell a chance to belt his words, which considerably helps carry the song. Unfortunately, it is the only instance of Campbell successfully overcoming his tendency towards light, tender vocals. When he bursts into a Bee Gees falsetto in “The Ghost of Genova Heights,” it only seems contrived. Another attempt at full-throated vocals, on “Barricade,” turns the song into something that sounds more like Disney than indie pop. The lyrics generally take a backseat to the delivery, and Campbell and Millan continue to sing like they mean it, showing sharp attention to the delivery and meaning of every word, despite those slight deviations.
This album leans much farther to the “pop” side of things than previous Stars albums, which results in songwriting that is simpler and melodies that are catchier. Tricky, less accessible features such as subdivision and crazy synth solos are absent, but the increased focus on instrumentation and production makes it a well-rounded album. Orchestral and rock instruments are effectively blended in songs like “Today Will Be Better, I Swear” and “Midnight Coward,” and the glossy (but not overdone) production would allow pretty much any of these songs to get consistent airplay on college radio.
Though it isn’t any sort of revelatory album, In Our Bedroom after the War is a solid, catchy effort that will probably help the band pick up a sizable new audience.