Around the time Snow Patrol walked out of Brit-pop finishing school and straight onto your sister’s iPod -- say, 2006 -- the Dears decided enough was enough with the Brit-pop game they’d been playing (especially because Snow Patrol essentially jacked their entire sound). It was time to get serious, man. And serious they got, releasing their tepid third album, Gang of Losers, an album that traded most (but not all) of their Smiths-by-way-of-Suede swagger with a more epic sound, taking square aim at the bleachers. After that album failed to garner the kind of publicity everyone has been predicting for the band since 2000, the Dears left Arts & Crafts and cut their least entertaining album yet, Missiles, deciding to release it through the more populist confines of Dangerbird (the original home of Silversun Pickups).
Like Kings of Leon’s latest, Missiles aims for U2-like impact with Stills (or again, Snow Patrol)-like tools. Need to convey importance? How about we add a lot of reverb to the drums. Want to signal that this album is supposed to be “serious”? Title it “Missiles,” give the songs titles like “Demons,” “Crisis 1 & 2,” and “Meltdown in A Major,” and start with a song that’s structure was lifted from Turn on the Bright Lights. And always, always remember: Acoustic guitars are to be used when trying to convey human emotions.
The worst offender is “Money Babies,” which uses Thomas Friedman-esque prose (as in clunky and obvious) and a chorus of “Our money is elastic" to discuss economic problems. Before you start thinking these guys had the foresight to write a song about how your ATM won’t be able to give you money in a few months, this song starts out being (probably) about economics but ends being (marginally) about trying to feed your baby.
Problem is, Dears singer Murray Lightburn sings all of the band’s songs in the same even-keel, throatier Damon Albarn voice he always has. That voice lends itself well to “Song 2”-like shout-alongs, but it is meager when used on an album that is meant to be weighty. The only thing letting you know anything is wrong on “Meltdown in A Major” is the title; the only crisis on “Crisis 1 & 2” is that the band couldn’t decide whether Lightburn or his back-up singer Natalia Yanchak should sing lead (they split the duty down the middle).
As the Verve can surely tell you (their comeback album disappeared faster than people’s retirement funds lately), no one is waiting for a Brit-pop revival. No one really wanted the Dears to be Brit-pop revivalists when they were, but now that they’re trying to be U2, wishing they still aspired to be Blur doesn’t seem so unreasonable.