No Cities Left
he Dears hail from Montreal and for a variety of reasons are, as far as I know, fairly unheralded outside of Canada. As Canadians, I’m sure they’re used to it.
And to be honest, although I really, really like No Cities Left, I can see why. The Dears play an alternately swooping, jazzy, furious and lachrymose brand of music that in turn sounds like synth pop or chamber pop or indie rock or a few other things. In short, among the rather restricted boundaries of their influences (Serge Gainsbourg, the Smiths, Pulp, etc), they’re all over the map.
The highlights are stunning: the end of opener ‘We Can Have It’ where the band stretches out to the horizon and Lightburn repeats “You’re not alone” with an urgency that edges into tangible desperation, or spacious first single ‘Lost In The Plot’ with its refrain of “I promise not to cry any more” are two of my favorite moments of music all year, and every song has at least some beautiful moments.
But another song, ’22: The Death Of All The Romance,’ highlights the problems here. For the first, say, four minutes, the track is a brilliant duet between Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak as superficial lovers, each sweetly cooing “Tell me, tell me the lies”. Great! But then there’s a two minute coda of the same melody. If this only happened once on No Cities Left, or a few times, we’d probably have a classic on our hands. Sometimes the longer length of the songs here does work: ‘Expect The Worst/’Cos She’s A Tourist’ stop/starts from a menacing quasi-thrash featuring strings that bring to mind the soundtrack to Requiem For A Dream to a suicidal, watery sprawl, and the end of the eight minute, nearly instrumental ‘Postcard From Purgatory’ is my personal favorite flute performance on a rock record ever. But the record is twelve songs over 66 minutes, and some editing was definitely warranted.
At first I didn’t notice any of this. No Cities Left, with its repeated dual metaphors of end of relationship as end of world/end of world as end of relationship and superb eighties-tinged pop songcraft, overwhelmed me completely and I was in love. I was listening to it two or three times a day, obsessively.
But it wore off. I began noticing the extended stretch of the songs a bit more, and there are no brilliant, concise songs to compete with past Dears highlights such as ‘Heartless Romantic’. And now it seems to me that there’s a bit too much flab on No Cities Left for it to be the truly great album it aspires to be.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2003-10-10