It’s a brave band that calls their new album ‘Gang of Losers’. But then The Dears and their front man and songwriter, Murray Lightburn, are no strangers to taking risks or confronting adversity. The band formed in the mid-90s, but had virtually imploded by the time their debut album was released in 2000. Meanwhile, Lightburn was experiencing drink and drug problems. The band finally found success in 2004 with their second lp ‘No Cities Left’ . The album was a surprise hit, with the single ‘Lost in the Plot’ receiving significant airplay worldwide.
The Dears’ third album might not have the immediacy of ‘No Cities Left’, but it is a complex, ambitious and ultimately rewarding collection of songs. The lyrical themes are big and broad – love, fear, rejection, racism and forgiveness, while the music is almost cinematic in scope. The ‘Gang of Losers’ of the title refers to any group of marginalized individuals – a band, a race, a religion, a culture – with each song exploring or celebrating the idea of the ‘outsider’.
Every single one of us is getting massacred on a frozen path
Fever comes to wipe us out and scratch a name off of the list
You and I are on the outside of almost everything
Sings Lightburn in the title track. But like many of the songs here, it concludes with an acceptance or recognition of a simple truth –
We, we’ve got the same heart
This song is among a group of strong slower tracks. ‘Hate, Then Love’ is another. Over swirling mellotron and chiming guitars, Lightburn yearns for understanding –
We’ll find our place in this world
It’ll take all day and all night
We’ll find our place in this world
If it takes all day and all night
There has been much talk of the Britpop or Morrissey influence on The Dears music. While that might have been true of one or two songs on ‘No Cities Left’, there is little of such sound on ‘Gang of Losers’. Given the fussy arrangements and retro keyboard sounds on ‘Losers’ the influences are more 70s ‘prog’ than 90s pop.
Two minutes into ‘Fear Made The World Go Round’, for example, the song switches from a slowburning piano-based ballad to a guitar-crunching stomp. The atmospheric ‘I Fell Deep’ makes a similar transition, fading out as a very 70s guitar solo screeches into view.
The uptempo songs on ‘Losers’ are a mixed bunch, and there is nothing quite as radio-friendly as ‘Lost in the Plot’. ‘Death Or Life We Want You’ is built around slashing guitars, while ‘Whites Only Party’ is a peculiarly jaunty take on race relations. Elsewhere, Lightburn questions the value of success and stardom. From ‘Bandwagoneers’ –
Heaven knows that I’m a fake
Heaven knows that we’re all faking it
Everything we are
And opening track ‘Ticket To Immortality’ –
I hang out with all the pariahs
Everyone is almost done with me
This could all come across as quite bleak and heavy-handed, yet Lightburn and his band skillfully balance the light and dark. For every word of despair or angry sound there is a message of hope or burst of shimmering guitar. Over the simple piano and drums intro to ‘Ballad of Humankindness’ Lightburn tells us –
Well I thought that we all cared about peace
And I thought that we’d all cry about love and loss
I can’t believe the vast amounts of people living on the streets
And I can’t believe I was almost one of them and I almost died
He berates himself for not offering to help those in need, but asks us to forgive him –
I’m gonna change, I’m gonna change, I’m gonna change
Like the best of any artistic endeavour – be it poetry, prose or pop – ‘Gang of Losers’ explores what it is to be human. It doesn’t reach any conclusions or offer any simple solutions, but examines the good and bad in everything.
With no obvious single to attract the attention of the music-buying public, it’s possible that this album will not find the audience it deserves. But this ‘Gang of Losers’ is worth getting to know. It is a richly textured work, meticulously arranged and passionately delivered. Losing never sounded so good.