Spoiler alert: Toward the end of The Darjeeling Limited, Jason Schwartzman’s character, one of three brothers (played by Owen Wilson and Adrien Brody) on a “spiritual quest” through India, reveals to his kin the ending of his next story. He does not yet know how the story will reach its conclusion, but the directness of the end (described aptly by Brody as “mean”) paints enough potential images to fill in the blanks. On the surface, the scene is played for laughs — another quirky moment in the life of Schwartzman’s well-established sad-sack character. However, the realization is also meant as catharsis. The film’s journey has led him to this point, so the audience, nor the character himself, needs further details.
Such suggestive power is also appropriately found in the Stars’ highly theatrical fourth record, In Our Bedroom After the War. Like the bulk of the bands’ material, the album focuses on love, loss, and all the fun bumps that accompany relationships. However, War unfolds less like a cohesive concept album (though a rock-opera would be a likely future addition to the group’s discography) as much as a series of telenovela vignettes — like the soundtrack to a daytime-television channel-surfer. “Life 2: The Unhappy Ending” literally pulls a scene from the tail-end of a Hollywood script gone wrong by employing screenwriting language, visual cues and all. The road leading to this overturned lover’s lane hardly matters as the drama of the ending practically spells out the first two hours of this tragedy. The ballyhooed “Personal” uses ad-speak call-and-response to project a visual of two faces speaking to each other in separate spaces. Though the language is terse, direct, and cold, the style is also ideal for the story’s spit-in-the-face outcome.
Admittedly, this affect is very much a natural extension of Stars’ prior (and, in some ways, superior) work. The group makes theater musical (not to be confused with musical theater), both in the drama of its lyrics and the largesse of its musical statements by exploding the visual and visceral through sound: The band’s constant comparisons with U2 are apt when considering the grandiosity of statements like “Saturday nights in neon lights, Sunday in the cell,” as depicted in “Take Me to the Riot.” And how many more times must Torquil Campbell’s Moz-style affectation be mentioned? The main difference on War is that the members of Stars have apparently learned to appreciate both the Hollywood and the weirdness of relationships. A distinct air of optimism rings through these tales of ragged and worn love, particularly “Bitches in Tokyo” where Amy Millan chants, “All this sabotage and blame/ Well, I can take it.” Perhaps, then, In Our Bedroom After the War is Stars’ moment of catharsis — not that the group will be cheerily different now, but at least appreciative in knowing the struggle has been worth it.