When the last Dears record, Missiles, came out, we all knew that there were obvious issues that needed to be addressed. Amid line-up changes and more time spent collaborating with members old and new, the band have emerged with what might possibly be their best record to date. Degeneration Street is full of squalls of feedback, great melodies and everything you’ve come to expect from the band.
You’ll begin the journey, and believe me, it’s a trek, with “Omega Dog” offering up a tight little angular guitar riff as Murray Lightburn does his best to approach a nice little falsetto. There’s a nice little groove, and the guitar riff will definitely resonate with every listener. Of course, the Dears never stand in place for long, going off into a darker corner of the song for the closing minute, with a fierce little guitar solo accompanied by noisy atmospheric elements.
But, one of the things that makes Degeneration Street so stunning is its ability to shift gears, much as the band does on the second track “5 Chords.” While other bands bash out their hits in less than thirty minutes, here you’ll find a band building their sound, not only within individual tracks, but with the album as a whole. This number definitely fulfills the happier pop element present in the record, with sweeping harmonies. A stomping drum beat helps keep the pace through it all, but please, pay great attention to Lightburn, as its clearly his voice that deserves all accolades in this song. Similarly, “Thrones” does a great deal to take the somewhat prog-leaning elements into a bit of melodrama, but that’s mean in a respectful sense. Tiny guttural yelps from Murray signify his playfulness, which we can hope relates to his joy with writing this entire collection of songs.
You’ll never think that the band has gone completely soft after listening here, as sharp-edged guitars are a constant throughout. Take “Stick w/ Me Kid,” which chugs along a jagged guitar line. The keyboard or programmable element only furthers the tension in the song, keeping listeners on squirming. Okay, so the operatic element in Murray’s voice definitely allows you to see a bit of light within the song, as we can imagine him standing in the middle of the audience, controlling us all with his voice as the band rages furiously on stage.
In the end, what stuck with me the most about Degeneration Street was the sense of jubilation that lives within the tracks, despite the usual lyrical content remaining. Let’s face it, Murray hasn’t always been one for optimism, but even with similar themes intact, you can’t tell me that songs like “Yesteryear,” with its almost danceable beat, don’t portray a man who’s having a blast writing the record he always wanted to unleash. Just try and tell me that “Easy Suffering,” in title alone, doesn’t paint the picture of a happier frontman. I blame this freedom and joy for one of the stronger tracks I feel the band have written, “Tiny Man.” It’s a solemn tune, one that surely comes from Lightburn’s personal writing, but his vocal delivery, and the mood just creates something wonderful to witness, especially after following the band from their earliest years. Perhaps I’m a simpleton, but sometimes a step back from traditional habits allows for great moments to burst forth.
Such sentiment seems to pervade Degeneration Street. At times in the past, they seemed victim of their unstable footing, but musical prowess never fell by the side. It’s always lived in the writing of Murray Lightburn, and it seems that perhaps with a strengthened Dears line-up, he’s finally been able to fit all the pieces together, as we all hoped he would do. It’s a sixty-minute affair, with varying styles, various approaches, all settling in the end, leaving listeners with one of the most rewarding listens that I’ve heard in a really long time.
Download: The Dears – Omega Dog [MP3]