No Cities Left

The Dears

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No Cities Left Review

by James Christopher Monger

Murray Lightburn, "writer and director" for the Montreal collective the Dears' elegant vocal style, gets plenty of Morrissey comparisons -- and rightly so -- but the Mozz would never be caught delivering a line like "It's the same old plot to these things," from the electrifying "Lost in the Plot," in a full-on primal scream. Lightburn may be a hopeless romantic, but his Canadian version of wine-drunk British doom and gloom owes a great deal more to bands like the Auteurs and the London Suede. No Cities Left, the group's long-awaited follow-up to 2001's critically acclaimed End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story, is a sweeping chamber pop nightmare of post-apocalyptic heartbreak. Lightburn reluctantly visits the breakup ("We Can Have It"), the all-consuming grief ("The Death of All Romance"), false hopes of reconciliation ("The Second Part"), and finally, nerve-twitching acceptance ("No Cities Left"). All of this misery is wrapped in a mid-'80s Britpop wrapper that takes more twists and turns than the London paparazzi following Princess Di, resulting in a record that at its best sounds like a suicidal combination of Blur and the Divine Comedy -- "Never Destroy Us," the winsome duet with keyboardist Natalia Yanchak is a fine example. The problem is, the skies are eternally gray in the Dears' Great White North, and though they may have successfully wrapped the smoky fingers of cabaret around the throat of rock & roll, the listener can't help but go down with the sad-sack ship. It's both long and long-winded. But it's hard not to ultimately fall for No Cities Left, even though there's a lingering sense of emptiness that permeates the air above it. In fact, maybe that's what Lightburn's trying to say: that in the end, it's what you put into the moment that matters, even if it's a knife. [The Australian version of No Cities Left includes the bonus four-track Protest EP.]

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