The power of pop

The Stars think their music can change your life.


Crocodile, 441-5611, $10 9 p.m. Thurs., Jan. 10

IN TODAY'S media-saturated society, folks are more apt to associate the word "stars" with visions of Britney and Brad Pitt than adjectives like "sublime" and "subtle." That is, unless the Stars in question are the Canadian band that seduced pop aficionados with their 2000 debut Nightsongs (on Le Grand Magistery), an intoxicating blend of flickering blue beats, subdued guitars and keyboards, hushed vocals, and a smattering of brass and strings. With its precise songwriting and spare, yet spirited, arrangements, that 14-track CD—and last year's five-song The Comeback EP—garnered comparisons to Saint Etienne and the Smiths. And like those acts, the Stars believe in the power of pop music to transform lives, because they've experienced it firsthand.

The first time singer-lyricist Torquil Campbell heard the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset," "I suddenly had this vapor of beauty around me," he recalls. "No matter how mundane and pathetic my life seemed, I could go inside that world and I was beautiful in it. My entire teens were spent just trying to continually be in that state." Like when he was obsessed with Joe Jackson's "Cancer," from 1982's Night and Day. "There was one two-bar section in that song that I spent a couple days just going back over, again and again, with the [phonograph] needle," he remembers. "That chord change made me feel so beautiful, like the possibilities of life were incredibly huge."

On their current West Coast jaunt, the Stars are previewing songs from their second album (tentatively titled Heart), slated for completion after the tour. Campbell says that sonically it marks a departure from Nightsongs, due to the involvement of newer members Amy Millan and Evan Cranley in the writing process alongside Campbell and his longtime collaborator Chris Seligman.

"[The new album] is a lot more dramatic, passionate, and direct," he adds. "Nightsongs achieved exactly what we wanted it to, which was to create a mood that was solitary. It's a good record to listen to when you're alone, or maybe with one other person. We're trying to make a more universal record this time, one that takes you on more of an emotional roller-coaster ride."

Seattle listeners may be especially intrigued by the title track, which, like earlier tunes "International Rock Star" and "The Comeback," ruminates on the nature of fame. "It has a line that goes, 'Kurt Cobain, he never had a chance/You know incurable romantics never do/He held a flame I wasn't born to carry/I'll leave the dying young stuff up to you,'" reveals Campbell, who was "profoundly affected" by Cobain's death.

"He was genuinely the last rock 'n' roll star," he says. "He ushered in a new period of thinking about music and pop culture in general, because what he basically said was, 'I wanted it, I got it . . . and it's a sham. I ended up singing to the very people that I despised the most.'"

Then there's the epic "Can Time Kill the True Heart?" slated as the centerpiece of what otherwise promises to be a succinct record. "It's long and has, like, seven vocal tracks," Campbell discloses. "I'm trying to achieve the effect of having the lead vocal sound like it was being sung by a 6-foot-5-inch transsexual with her panties around her ankles, staggering along the street screaming for help. It'll probably end up sounding like the Pet Shop Boys, but we're giving it a shot."

Regardless, the singer says Heart still lives up to the Stars' French motto: luxe, calme, et volupt鼯I> (roughly "luxurious, calm, and voluptuous"). "Artistically, what makes us distinct is that dedication to achieving a kind of purity, of sensual revelation . . . if that doesn't sound too ridiculous. That's always going to be our project in life; that's what we believe in: The power of art to enlighten, to lift people up."

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