Stars: "Set Yourself on Fire", 2004

It really wasn’t so many years ago that

Set Yourself on Fire

was left on repeat on my stereo for several months, and even now I don’t feel as though I’ve exhausted its effect on me.  The sentimentality of the record is varied in such a way that it seems to fit any circumstance: it’s great on my iPod, on a road trip, or while I’m at home studying.  Or like this Friday, cranking out the stereo as I prepared brunch for myself and a friend. 

Before I say too much, I should mention that as soon as I put this album on I am automatically in danger of completely contradicting my philosophy of albums and the intention of this blog.  The reason being I could quite easily spend the entire post on the first track, Your Ex-Lover is Dead.  I’ll try to keep it short.  Your Ex-Lover is Dead provides a window through which to view the rest of the songs of the album, and sets the tone for what the album (and the band in general) is best at: break up songs. 

The song showcases Stars’ two lead vocalists Torquille and Amy, by having them play the parts of two departed lovers.  Before we know anything of the intended setting, a string section and a cello line sets a mood that paints a picture in my head.  And even though I'm sure it's influenced by my foreknowledge of the lyrics, I’m immediately transported to a rainy evening on a cobblestone street, trying to hail a taxi.

It’s also hard not to hear this song without mental pictures of the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I’m positive that’s only because the music video makes pretty clear references to it.  Other great things about this track:  the shift between a lighter 6/8 feel characterized by the orchestral strings and a more punchy every-beat-emphasized feel in 3; along with great bitter-sweet lines like, “I’ll write you a postcard, I’ll send you the news from the house down the road from real love”. 

But moving on to the title track, Set Yourself on Fire.  It’s a fairly smooth transition actually, partially because the intro of the song keeps a meter in 6/8 before snapping back into common time for the verses.  What this song does really well is move us from the beauty of the first track into further exploration of failed relationships through the rest of the album by unifying the world through experience of the “one thing”, which of course is up for interpretation, but not really. 

I begin to pull out ingredients for hash-browns, but about 3 minutes into the song I’m tempted to crawl back into bed to add to my “20 years of sleep”.  Thankfully, by the time I convince myself, Ageless Beauty kicks in and reminds me that Sarah will be at my door in about 20 minutes, and I need to chop some freaking potatoes!  So I do, to a slightly more poetic and hopeful view of love and life (“we will always be a light”). 

Reunion comes next, reminding me that I have one myself to look forward next year: Ten years past high-school.  I’m not so sure that I’ll go, but for now I’ll enjoy this song about nostalgia for old crushes and youthfulness.

Then, once again, Stars play off their duet capabilities in The Big Fight.  These are always my favorite songs of Stars.  This song is relaxed and groovy, and even though I’m spending my time boiling potatoes, I feel suave.  I kind of imagine myself sitting by a fire with a stiff drink in hand.  But then the mood breaks a little when I picture Torque and Amy acting out their disagreements through a dance off during the long instrumental outro…

All I can say about What I’m Trying to Say is that I find it impossible not to sing along with.  It captures an awkwardness of relationships that songs rarely can without sounding awkward themselves.  “I am trying to say… what I want to say… without having to say… I love you”  So great. 

Sarah arrives and I make her help with all the brunch that hasn’t been finished, while I also lose my focus on the music playing in the background.  Instead of ignoring my friend to blog, I wait and put the CD on at work during the evening shift. 

One More Night (Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead) gets even deeper into the complexities of end-of-relationship phenomena: The last night together.  It’s dark, and I love it.  I also love how it’s back to back with Sleep Tonight, the one fairly simple, love song on the album.  Yet even on Sleep Tonight, we’re aware of what we’re ignoring: “with buried heads we both forget all of the past and its regret”.  Still, “all the love’s alive tonight”.  Maybe it is still possible to love after all of the disappointment and pain that we’ve been experiencing. 

Nearing the end of the album, we get a brief picture of a beginning of a relationship: The First Five Times.  I’m not nearly as into it this time, but in the past it’s been one of my favorites to bounce around to. 

He Lied About Death is just plain angry.  I have never loved this song.  Sometimes I yell to it a bit, and it was a little fun listening to at work, but for the most part I don’t see how it fits with the rest. 

Finally the trio completes it all:  Celebration Guns, Soft Revolution, and Calendar Girl.  We have another clear return to the strings and brass that began the album, creating a bit of a nostalgic and reflective tone.  Next Soft Revolution jumps back in to the familiar steady beat to get us ready for the ultimate end-of-album ballad (Calendar Girl) that spends some time repeating that, after all is said and done, I am alive. 

So in the end,

Set Yourself on Fire

is relatively hopeful and thankful for life, allowing the title to take an ironic tone.  Maybe we can survive our broken hearts and failed attempts at love.  And even when it feels like we won’t, we have a great album to relate to.