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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Stars: "Do You Trust Your Friends?"

Stars' "Set Yourself On Fire" is one of my favorite indie albums of all time, and my definite favorite on the Arts and Crafts label. The album built upon the romanticized themes of their first two albums, while also proving the band to be a truly musically talented group. As the cliche goes, the album will always have a special place in my heart. When I first heard that Stars' masterpiece was going to be reworked by some of the most talented indie artists around today, I was both excited and worried at the same time. Did I really want this great album to be messed with? Were these talented musicians qualified to tackle this project and do it justice? Can Stars trust their friends?

The tracklist to "Do You Trust Your Friends?" is set up the same as the album it is based on. As such, most of it feels like a tribute album rather than a full-fledged remix/cover album. Also, with the exception of a few tracks, most of the original fantastic vocal work has been left in. This is a good thing, as the vocals are arguably the most attractive aspect of Stars' music.

In "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead," the lead-off and standout track from the first album, Final Fantasy takes on the huge task of recreating the cinematic feel of the original. It seems that this would be the best fit, as Owen Pallett is fantastic at composing intricate piano and string songs. However, despite his lush arrangement, the song feels very empty, and never builds into the epic grandeur of the original. It is a much more solemn song this time around, but not necessarily better. On Montag's version of "Set Yourself On Fire," layers upon layers of drums, guitars, synths, and electronics complement the vocals quite nicely without overpowering them.

My favorite track on the album has to be "Ageless Beauty" by The Most Serene Republic. Here, Amy Milan's beautiful declaration of "We will always be in love," is given new life thanks to the folksy guitars and piano that the band has implemented. I was never the biggest fan of the original, but this is a version that I can truly love. Not content to just reuse old vocals, Jason Collett opts to do a full-on cover of "Reunion." Like the songs that precede it, it offers a completely different take on Stars' music, and it does so nicely. The song now has a very southern rock feel to it, and it sounds great!

The album starts to drag a little bit with Minotaur Shock's version of "The Big Fight" which is a shallow and bland electronic rendition of a great song. If that wasn't enough, The Dears take it upon themselves to ruin what was probably the most exciting and uplifting song on "Set Yourself On Fire" with their version of "What I'm Trying To Say," which is inexplicably split into two parts. It's depressing that one of my favorite bands could completely destroy this great song. The Dears are capable of much better than this, to be sure. The album picks up again with "One More Night" covered by Apostle of Hustle. Their version of the song is not better than the original, but it is an interesting take on it nonetheless.

The Russian Futurists' version of "The First Five Times" utilizes power chords and breakbeats to make a somewhat decent reworking of the original song. This was never my favorite song to begin with, and this version doesn't change my mind about that. However, it is ambitious, and therefore worth a few courtesy listens. Metric's version of "He Lied About Death" is really the only other notable track on the album. While I'm a little disappointed to hear that the awesome saxophone solo from the original is not reused, it is refreshing to hear that the band was smart enough to leave out the absolutely childish lyric "I hope your drunken daughters are gay" (even if they do rely too heavily on the "Don't f*** with our lives" lyric).

So can Stars trust their friends? Well, they can trust some of them. Some bands like The Most Serene Republic and Jason Collett do a fantastic job of paying tribute to the original work, while others (The Stills and The Dears) completely destroy something that was once amazing. In the end, my opinion of "Do You Trust Your Friends?" is just as mixed as the quality of the songs it contains. This is not an album you'll listen to for months, or weeks for that matter. It's an album you pick up if you really loved "Set Yourself On Fire." It's an album you get if you want to hear talented musicians rework a classic collection of songs. But it's also an album that you'll wind up disappointed in. Despite the caliber of the artist contained within, "Do You Trust Your Friends" is a disappointment, plain and simple.

Recommended for fans of Stars and anyone who really likes to ruin works of art.

Key Tracks:
1. "Set Yourself On Fire" (Montag)
2. "Ageless Beauty" (The Most Serene Republic)
3. "Reunion" (Jason Collett)
4. "One More Night" (Apostle of Hustle)

5 out of 10 Stars


Anonymous said...

Hey. Nice review; Ageless Beauty was great in my opinion, so I definitely agree with you. However, I don't think Amy Millan's singing "We will always be in love," but "We will always be a light."

Just wanted to point that out. Anyway, nice blog :)

Cale said...

I checked the booklet that came with the CD and you're right. All those years of me singing "...always be in love" like a girl whilst driving alone...wasted!

I am ashamed. Thanks for righting my wrong.