cool hand bak

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Say No To Stars

I do my best to keep it positive and I think that by and large I've done a pretty good job of only writing about artists I actually like, but every now and then the urge to warn others away from an album overcomes me. Granted, free publicity is probably not the best way to affect an artist's success, but when something comes along that I find genuinely offensive to basic good taste, I feel it's my duty to say so. Bearing that in mind, I found Star's 2004 album Set Yourself On Fire so maddening that I had to have a sit-down with the people responsible. I caught up with Stars' main culprits Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan in New York (where else?) for the following no-holds-barred interview...

cool hand bak: First question, for whom did you write the songs that comprise Set Yourself On Fire?

TC: The kids, man! Anyone who's ever been in love, or just anyone who drinks a lot and has a lot of meaningless sex. Anyone's who wants to be 17 again, you know. Manhattanites, basically.

chb: Ah, that's what I feared. But don't you think that demographic, the one you're aiming for, is already well-versed in what you're singing about? Most of them aren't doing anything but getting drunk and having cheap sex, so why bother to write these songs?

AM: Yes, but they need anthems! And we need to make a living. I mean, I don't care if other people listen to our songs and see a dead horse. I see a fucking white stallion ready to mount.

chb: Alright, let me come at this from a different angle. How old are the two of you? Doesn't it feel even a little wrong, at your age, to be writing songs with such juvenile concerns at their heart?

TC: Stars, for us, is like a beautiful reminder of the failure that was our youth. It's like, none of us were cool, we weren't getting any action back then, so we might as well write about it now. And really, what else are we going to sing about? Paying the bills? Developing a beer belly? No one but Yo La Tengo can really write cool songs about adulthood.

AM: I'm in rock 'n' roll, I don't have time to question what's coming from my gut, you know what I mean? Besides, plenty of songwriters in their mid-twenties are still writing songs about teenage issues. The Strokes have that song where they sing about being worried about the finals and there's that "oh really, your folks are away" line, so it's not like we're the only ones.

chb: Yes, but those songs actually sound good coming from The Strokes. Pretty much their entire musical identity may be borrowed, but at least they sound convincing. They can pull it off. Your songs' lyrics are so atrocious that they've gone past the point of being awful and have come back around to being laughable. Like the one that begins "First time in the backyard something something it was pouring and we were drunk as shit". That had me rolling around on the floor in tears. Don't you...

TC (interrupting): We had to amuse ourselves, man. Like, I'll admit it sucks to be almost 30 and have to cater to what 17 year olds care about, but there's really no way around it. That's just the nature of the business we're in. They're the ones that buy CDs. It's like, don't hate the players, you know, hate the game.

chb: Huh?

TC: You've never heard that saying? Basically, I'm saying it's not our fault, you know, we're writing what the kids want to hear. My life is boring, why would I write about that?

chb: Fair enough. Let's change the topic. Due to America's neverending campaign to make Canada its bitch, the hip thing to do these days is to champion a lot of average Canadian bands. Do you think Stars have benefitted from that trend?

AM: Definitely! New York is like our home away from home. People are so kind to us there. Well, except the time we went to jail and were surrounded by nothing but black people, that was sad. But we love New York, we want to be big in America of course. I mean, who wants a fucking Juno when you could have a Grammy? We want to be all things to everyone!

TC: What's weird though is that at the same time that mediocre bands like us, Broken Social Scene and basically all our labelmates [Editor's note: Except Feist] are being lavished with praise and adoration, Canadian bands that really deserve international attention, like The Deadly Snakes and The Be Good Tanyas, are still going largely unnoticed. Even The Arcade Fire. I mean, they're okay, but they certainly don't justify the hype they've been getting in the States. But, I'm actually American, so I don't really care.

chb: I agree, that is weird. Why do you think that is?

TC: Well, for starters, it helps that we're virtually interchangeable with mediocre American bands like The Postal Service.

AM: That's not why. The real reason is that Stars is about LOVE! Love is an action, and Stars are active. Love is everything! Love is forgiveness, love is horrible and love is beautiful. Love Jesus, love Allah, love love and fuck everything else.

chb: Um, you're not really answering the question.

AM: Whoopee, loooovvveeeeee!!! Once we smoked weed through an apple. Loooovovveeee!!!

chb: Alright, that about wraps it up.

There you have it. As you can see, it's too late for me. I should've gone running as soon as I saw song titles like "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead", "What I'm Trying To Say" and "Soft Revolution". As soon I heard them make stupid attempts at being clever with lyrics like "six drinks too many" or "the velvet underground" (sung in earnest!), I should've set the disc on fire. If that weren't enough, the first lines of their bio should've driven me away for good:

Montreal in winter is a cold, cruel place. It's the sort of city where you have to chip the tears off your cheeks when you start to cry...
So, basically, I went through all that so you don't have to. Stay away from this album. Far, far away. Enough said.

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