If ever there was a band who deserves a ‘best of’ collection, it’s Stars.
You may not have a favourite Stars album, but everyone has a favourite Stars song (and if you don’t, your name is Stephen Harper). Even though massive hit singles and international recognition have eluded them these last twenty years, the songs chosen for their career-spanning retrospective double album LaGuardia suggests otherwise. If ever there was a band who deserves a ‘best of’ collection, it’s Stars. There’s has been a journey of take-offs, landings, and missed connections best told through the vignettes of their pristinely crafted and performed songs.
The most consistent thing about Stars over their twenty-year career is that they’ve never loitered in one musical or emotional place for long. Yet they’ve always — adamantly — remained loyal to that intangible esprit de corps that’s informed their music. It’s evident in the way “Elevator Love Letter” (from 2003-album Heart) slides into “Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It” (a gem from 2012’s The North that should have been a massive hit) as if it was their intention these songs should sit side-by-side all along. That a song like “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”, the iconic opening salvo of 2004’s Set Yourself on Fire, cozily becomes a deep-cut in the middle of Side 2’s (“Gate B”’s) tracklisting speaks to their songwriting ability. To paraphrase fan-favourite “Reunion”, the faces haven’t changed, but they’ve been reassembled, given “one more chance to be young and wild and free.”
Over the years, I’ve gone from thinking of Stars as a band to a gang to a family whose dysfunctions are the same as our own, only instead of screaming and yelling about them in public, they choose to make beautiful melodies out of the mess. It’s no wonder that instead of a traditional tour, Stars decided to stage a hybrid concert/musical/play/performance piece called Stars: Together. I haven’t seen it yet, but in my head, I’m imagining the melodrama of August: Osage County meets The Sound of Music schmaltz as performed by The Muppets. In other words, it sounds very Stars. It sounds perfect. As is LaGuardia: the retrospective’s twenty songs encapsulate Stars’ two-decade journey like a scrapbook overflowing with souvenirs and mementos suggesting that there are still blank pages in this book waiting to be filled.