The Dears are the quiet survivors of the early noughties. Never having reached the commercial or reputational highs of some of their contemporaries, the band’s mainstays Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak have gone about their business under their own steam and under many folks’ radars. This eighth album finds them in fine fettle, occupying the space in which a more humble, less rainbow-chasing Arcade Fire might have found themselves. It’s a varied spread of indie rock which measures its moments of grandiosity. And mercifully, there’s no attempts at actual lovers rock.
Heart Of An Animal is an attacking opening, going about its business much the way Black Mirror did on the Fire’s Neon Bible. It offers mid-life blues – “I can finally feel / The age coming up on us / And how it hasn’t been entirely worthwhile” – and their take on Homer Simpson’s contribution to philosophy – “The more we try / The more we will inevitably fail” – before climaxing in a refrain of “Lunacy! Lunacy!”
That’s a clue to the tone. Because, as is customary in 2020, there’s a general air of despair at the world on Lovers Rock. The toe-tapping bossa nova of Stille Lost is barbed with the repeated refrain “We’re lost / And nobody gives a damn”. Even the sax break is anxious. The Smiths B-side jangle of Is This What You Really Want? is accompanied with Smiths B-side lyrics: “Nobody wants to die / But does anyone wanna live? / Another day going through the motions.”
Yet they let some brighter rays in. There’s hope and romance in lead single The Worst In Us, an air-punching anthem which breaks down into a piano riff like Madness’ Our House played at 33. I Know What You’re Thinking And It’s Awful is played sombre, but with a production tweak or two they could have penned that chorus “Oooh, I can’t forget it / I can’t forget it / I’m not over you” as a hit for an actual pop star. And Too Many Wrongs isn’t ashamed of its tuneful MOR balladry, showcasing the band’s Neil Sedaka side, albeit with heartbreak in the lyrics: “When will we see the end of the night? / Too many wrongs can’t be right”.
This is neither fashionable nor revolutionary music, but there’s more merit in Lovers Rock than the phoned-in, indie-by-numbers higher profile bands turn in. The Dears’ perseverance may be paying off.