Expectations can be real tricky. Like the time you were expecting a Huffy bike for your birthday and instead got nail clippers, the lesson’s still the same: anticipate the best and you’ll never be satisfied. On Stellastarr*’s eponymous debut, released by RCA, old standards and new songs combine to test your listening expectations. When the album travels the oft-used ’80s new-wave path, little can be done to top the band’s predecessors; but when Stellastarr* gets you of guard with tracks of despair and desire, low expectations turn into high enjoyment.
On Stellastarr*, standouts form because of the unexpected, when every chorus and verse is perfectly timed to catch you off guard. “Jenny,” “In the Walls,” and “No Weather,” with their post-punk howl and growl, build upon themselves in such surprisingly deft ways that the tracks, which already start off fairly catchy, surpass all expectations, ending with an impressive bang. On “Jenny,” the pace picks up as vocalist Shawn Christensen uses his spastic voice to bring a sense of yearning into the track. His inflectional voice, reflecting the same changes as the music, jumps from near-scream to deep falsetto in a moment’s time.
But on other tracks, the buildup is for nothing, as Stellastarr* drags its musical feet through the ground. “My Coco” stretches out an already-bland verse for about two minutes, creating the core of the song. Had that been the entire song, the track would simply be boring and we’d call it a night. But instead, the weak main verse is surrounded by an explosive opening and a wonderfully Brit-pop-gone-new-wave ending verse, creating disappointment from knowing that this so-so track could have been so, so, good.
Even the praise-garnering single “Somewhere Across Forever” doesn’t live up to expectations. The lackluster track aims for MTV2 stardom but falls short, landing in the over-hyped bin. Repeating the pop single, which originally appeared on the EP, on the album not only wastes three minutes and forty seconds of my time, but three minutes and forty seconds of precious album time that could have been spent brooding, not bouncing around aimlessly. Similarly, “Pulp Song” yearns to be an adolescent anthem in an “Our Time” way, but instead lands squarely into annoying territory. Though the song, with a chorus consisting of “We’re lying / We’ve lied to you/ We’ve lied to make our point of view” seems like it could bring down the house live, it just can’t pack a punch on record.
Dealing with an album that breaks your heart and astounds your mind so many times creates quite a bit of emotional stress and isn’t for the weak. Your best bet is to find a sucker of a friend and get them to buy the album, just so you can listen to the good tracks. Maybe then you’ll save up enough money for that Huffy.