Something that should be quoted at the beginning of any review of a band on their third or later album is the saying that the definition of madness is
"doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results"Huh. The other thing is something that I have tried to figure out for a long time - should I, a consumer of music, really expect that a band can make more than one great album? And do I feel guilty for wanting an album like their original stuff, pretty much the most 'indie' thing you can want? The Dears created something magical with their first major release, No Cities Left, a certifiable indie-classic that is almost timeless in its execution and style, with the crooning vocals and puncturing rhythms that sound like lightning in a bottle. The album is one of very few - like Is This It and Turn On the Bright Lights - born from that early 21st century stable of indie rockers that can still be listened to. But...
There is a problem. Since then The Dears have struggled to match their heady heights, and here's my question? Should I expect them to, do I have an investment that needs returning from my affection in the first place, am I out of order to expect that they can make another album of the quality? The recent albums, Gang of Losers and Missiles were albums that I wanted to love but left me feeling a little out of sorts. They weren't bad records but held up against their startling older brethren they seem less polished and less compelling.
Eight years since No Cities Left they are back with another set of tracks in a perverse perseverance. Should you care that they are back? Should I care that they are back? Is this the album, these 14 tracks, the ones that are going to reaffirm that solid belief that The Dears were the next big thing?
No. No, it's not. Degeneration Street is 14 tracks of great song craftsmanship, good vocal work, nice lyrics, competent guitar and a certain confidence that exude a good atmosphere. But the thing is to understand why I don't like Degeneration Street as much as No Cities Left I have to take apart why I like No Cities Left and you know what? It's the past that makes it so great. In 2004 when I first heard the album I was shocked because it was an album of sheer depth the like of which I'd not really been exposed to - growing up amongst fans of Nu Metal and Pop music I found it difficult to find my footing in bands, and The Dears is a good example of a band that opened my eyes, much like Belle and Sebastian and Godspeed You! Black Emperor - they were a gateway band to a world I had hoped existed and that I was happy to have found. The lead me to a host of new bands, namely The Smiths and Yo La Tengo.
So where does Degeneration Street sit? Quite well, actually - the assured style is akin to No Cities Left and the return of the dark lyrics, slow build up and long over blown drum solos are here in full effect, and it is the best sounding album they've made, better in some respects that No Cities Left. It has a few pretty amazing highlights - Blood being a stomping anthem with a rollercoaster melody on the chorus line. Lamentation is a slow burner like 22: The Death of all the Romance and has the same sense of despair and really does show that the band have the same feelings that made No Cities Left so special.
The album could do with two or three tracks cut from it's running length. Yesteryear is a jaunty sing along pop song that sites rather awkwardly on the record, and the song Easy Suffering sounds like it was culled from session on a Robbie Williams record... but for all it's flaws, Degeneration Street is an album worthy of that 20 year old students love, promise that they might have a place in modern day rock music. The Dears though have yet to make a truely essential album since their first, and the question I must ask then is why do they need to?
They don't. And finally, I don't think they are trying to anymore. This is one of the best albums of the year.