The most jaded and conservative parents in the world will probably tell you that most folks in rock bands are “losers.” Drinking heavily, living out of a van, never taking on a real job—these aren’t the kinds of people your parents raised you to hang around. It sounds like hyperbole, or even stereotype, but I once had a boss who seemed absolutely flabbergasted at the idea that a rock musician could actually prove to be an articulate interview. The truth of the matter is being in a band is often extremely hard work, and records don’t merely walk their way into listeners’ stereos. Montreal’s Dears, who have spent the better part of a decade laboring over their elaborate recordings and touring time and time again, understand this just as much as anyone, and yet, on their latest album Gang of Losers, they embrace the idea of the loser, champion the underdog and raise a glass to the outcasts.
First single “Ticket to Immortality” has frontman Murray Lightburn confessing “I hang out with all the pariahs.” In “Death or Life We Want You,” he creepily croons “Nobody wants you but we want you,” in a zombie-like robotic state. In “Bandwagoneers” he sings “we are feeling so erroneously unknown.” Those cast aside, ignored and shunned take center stage in a dramatic, yet strangely uplifting collection of songs which are surprisingly straightforward and simple, particularly in comparison to No Cities Left, which layered track upon track in its haunting symphony of gloom. Its dense textures and orchestration created an ominous atmosphere that practically heralded the apocalypse in tracks like “Expect the Worst/’Cos She’s a Tourist.” Gang of Losers, though essentially a guitar pop record that contains shades of many of the band’s Britpop forebears, remains as gorgeous and emotionally affecting as its immense predecessor.
Taking their recordings back to a relatively simple rock sound is possibly the best thing The Dears could have done this time out. On No Cities Left, they left very little room for making their compositions any bigger, and quite frankly, it probably would have been too much if they kept going in such a direction. With a standard guitar-bass-drums and often keyboard lineup, the Canadian outfit manages to wield more impressive compositions than most bands with a similar arsenal. “Ticket To Immortality” is as soaring as anything on their previous album, but with fewer bells and whistles and a stirring, huge chorus (something frequently absent on No Cities Left). “Death or Life We Want You” is harsher, distorted rock, but pulls off the creepy, outcast party vibe much better than Billy Corgan ever could. And the melodically stunning “Hate, Then Love” is a nosebleed peak for this album, managing not to sound corny when Lightburn declares “I believe in love! I swear, I swear, I swear it to you!”
The title track is softer piano balladry with an almost Coldplay-like level of universality. Just to clarify, I didn’t say it sounded like Coldplay. I wouldn’t want to make that mistake. But it’s hard to deny the hugeness of this song. “Whites Only Party,” meanwhile, has a Western saloon piano and strum-along feel, making for a fun and catchy highlight. The drum machines and piano that begin “Ballad of Human Kindness” suggest that the listener’s in for one of the purest pop gems on the record, and that’s exactly what it becomes. Through the combination of jangly guitar riffs and popping drum beats, it soon coalesces into what the title promises, a ballad of human kindness that tugs at the heartstrings, Lightburn repeating to himself “I’m gonna change” before making his plea: “No one should have to live life on their own.”
The Dears have always been an emotional and dramatic band, yet on Gang of Losers we find them both at their most earnest and their most soulful. Murray Lightburn may paint himself out to be an outsider, and the band his gang of ne’er do wells, and as a band that has always pushed their songs to their artistic peaks, there may be some truth to that. And yet few outsiders make albums this affecting and well-crafted. Stay gold, Murray boy, stay gold.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.