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Stellastarr's Swan Song or Belly Flop?
Posted by: Parkas4Kids from: Dundalk, MD on
It's rare for me to fall in love with a band the very first time I hear them, but Stellastarr* are one of those bands. Back in 2003, one of my co-workers brought in the band's self-titled debut to work and played it in the store, and I was absolutely enthralled with that album from beginning to end. That very same day, I went out and bought my own copy of the album and was instantly a fan.
2005's "Harmonies for the Haunted" took a different, darker turn in the band's sound. While a solid album, it didn't live up to the hype of Stellastarr*'s debut. Granted, after time, I grew to love it almost as much as the debut, but it marked a change in the band's sound, and it made me anxious to hear where the band was going next.
By the time 2009's "Civilized" hit, I was REALLY anxious to hear what the new album sounded like. I eagerly downloaded the first single, "Graffiti Eyes," when it hit iTunes...and I wasn't sure what to think. It sounded something like their debut, something like "Harmonies...," and something altogether its own. Finally, I bought "Civilized," and I must admit I was initially disappointed. I listened to it a few times and found myself scratching my head wondering, "Where are these guys going with their sound?" There wasn't a whole lot of cohesion amongst the three albums they'd managed to release over the last nine years (at the time), and I dismissed the album altogether.
Fast forward to early this year (2013) when I decided to give "Civilized" another chance. It's 50% their self-titled debut and 50% "Harmonies..." part two. The S/T-sounding tracks, in my opinion, are "Tokyo Sky" (which I love), "Graffiti Eyes" (which goes back and forth between album sounds), "Prom Zombie," and "Move On" (which is more "Harmonies...," really). The remainder of the albums tracks float somewhere in that realm of "Harmonies...," sounding somewhat dark but not as dark as "Harmonies..." itself. Shawn's voice isn't as strong as it had been on the band's previous albums, and the band as a whole aren't playing with the same energy as they have before. "Robot" and "Freak Out" sound almost phoned-in, and I felt "Numbers" to be a relatively weak song overall. It's not until the open chords of "Tokyo Sky" that this album starts to take flight.
In conclusion, does this album live up to the canon of Stellastarr*'s body of work? Yes, it does, though I fear the band will never be able to reclaim the power and glory that was their debut. Sadly, the band has been on indefinite hiatus since sometime after the release of this album, so we may never know what a follow-up might sound like.
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