The Dears

Nor The Dahlias: The Dears 1995-1998

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While End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story was the Dears' debut as such, the group had existed in various guises for a number of years beforehand, as Murray Lightburn developed and pursued his particular vision (along with running into a number of false starts). Nor the Dahlias -- assembled, according to Lightburn's detailed liner notes, somewhat against his wishes -- is far less French pop and far more Brit-pop, though with various flashes of the more orchestrally minded direction of the later band. Lightburn's various assessments of the songs are a bit hard and self-critical, but certainly accurate enough -- his efforts are derivative of many sources (certainly the hints of Morrissey's singing style, among others, is hardly unintentional) and the music is more solid than surprising. All of those caveats in mind and acknowledging that this will be more of interest to Dears fans than Anglophiles in general -- and that the recording quality and mixes are sometimes bemusing -- Nor the Dahlias still definitely has its cozily obvious moments. The earliest mid-'90s songs "Open Arms" and "Nine Eight Two" -- Lightburn tells a hilarious story about how the latter ended up in the hands of Blur's Graham Coxon during the height of that band's war with Oasis -- are mostly pleasant curios. "The Way the World Treats You" is probably the best, a definitely Smiths-like song that's both sweet and quietly intense. Later songs bring out Damon Albarn-skewed vocals all the more -- "Dear Mr. Pop Star" in particular might as well be something from Parklife down to the brusque and choppy arrangement, while "She's Well Aware" isn't far behind -- and it's really clear why Lightburn would prefer to look to a more individual future incarnation. Still, every band starts somewhere, and there are worse locations than this.

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