Heart by Stars (Review)

Even the most starry-eyed of songs are coated with a thin layer of wistfulness and nostalgia.
Heart - Stars

Perhaps it’s just the hopeless romantic inside me, or merely an indication of my naïveté, but there’s still a part of me that thinks that, if I only make the perfect mixtape, a girl will fall in love with me. That somehow, putting together an assortment of songs will convey what I can’t say — which, after all, is the reason why we make mixtapes for girls in the first place, right?

But assembling the right collection of songs can be a bit daunting. You want to have enough heavy songs, songs full of expressions of longing and melancholy, so that she knows you’re, well, deep and stuff (and that you can’t live without her)… but you don’t want to come across as emotionally unstable. And you want to include some fun, upbeat lovey-dovey tunes… but not too many, lest she thinks you’re frivolous, flippant, and unable to commit.

Well, maybe I should just skip all of that work and simply give her a copy of Heart, because this album seems like the finest mixtape never made for that special someone. The songs on Heart play like finely-wrought, exquisitely-crafted odes that run the gamut of romantic introspection — from the first heady rush of unrequited love to the bitter resignation when you both know it’s over but still can’t quite let go, from desperately wanting to have the right words to doggedly sticking next to a loved one who insists on pushing you away.

Even the most starry-eyed of songs are coated with a thin layer of wistfulness and nostalgia, the kind that (unless your heart is carved of ice) is guaranteed to make you sigh and get a slight little catch in your throat. And making it all the more sweeter is the sheer pop goodness that flows throughout the album.

The members of Stars are clearly fans of all that was shimmery and sparkly in British twee and pop. As a result, Heart sounds like a distillation of every good and wonderful thing from groups including The Lightning Seeds, Trembling Blue Stars, and The Field Mice, with graceful basslines (“Elevator Love Letter”), chiming guitars (“Life Effect”), aching string arrangements (“What The Snowman Learned About Love”), and crisp programming in abundant supply.

But Stars perhaps owes their biggest debt to the perfection that is Saint Etienne. And even then, this quartet holds their own against one of the greatest pop groups of the past 20 years. There are parts on Heart that rank up there with the very best that Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs, and Sarah Cracknell ever wrote (and I’m talking the classic stuff, i.e. So Tough and Tiger Bay). So much so that it’s quite simply a shock to not hear Sarah Cracknell’s voice on “The Vanishing” or “Life Effect.”

Sure, there are times when the album comes dangerously close to being too precious. The lyrics are unrepentantly mopey — “Time can take its toll on the best of us/Look at you, you’re growing old so young” (“Heart”), “I hope I die in the arms of a child/In a meadow where the thistles grow wild” (“Time Can Never Kill The True Heart”) — but Stars are so gosh darn earnest, so assuredly romantic, that they can get away with it. And it doesn’t hurt that they have the pop hooks to back up such proclamations.

As a result, it doesn’t seem cheesy at all for the band to introduce themselves in the album’s opening seconds, each one claiming that “This is my heart,” but rather highly appropriate. And in a better world, that sort of openness and honesty, expressed without a trace of guile or irony, would be enough to make anyone fall head over heels in love.

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