Murray Lightburn actually wept when he got the phone call to open a few Morrissey shows last year. And why not? The 30-year-old Dears frontman has often been called the “Black Morrissey,” and growing up, the Smiths and Morrissey meant everything to him.
“I think more than anything, finding Morrissey made me feel like I wasn’t alone and helped me find a little inner strength,” Lightburn says, matter-of-factly. “Whether I would have found that without him is debatable, but who cares? The Smiths were a great band that spoke to millions and I was lucky enough to be one of them.”
Finding the middle ground between light and dark, between the politics of culture and the politics of love, between hope and hopelessness are, obviously, struggles we go through every day, just like Morrissey. And it’s easy to get wedged in that in-between gray area, where you can’t make a decision to save your life. And Lightburn understands this; finding harmony is what the Dear’s latest, No Cities Left, is all about.
“Everything in life is about balance,” Lightburn says, unironically. “This is something of which we became utterly aware after our first album.”
Roughly five years after starting this six-piece Montreal collective, Lightburn’s sonic balance of theatrical tension and cinematic pop has come full circle. No Cities Left, the band’s second full-length, contains the kind of epic productions of pop romanticism that rivals anything from your fave swirl-and-croon Brit pop. And like those who influenced him (Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, the Smiths, etc.), Lightburn remains perfectly poised while offering up sharp takes on love and dejection. As on previous recordings, his observations fuel the guitar feedback and the swooning orchestral melancholy, not the other way around. Listening to those records, and seeing the look on Lightburn’s face live, one could guess that the singer is a sad sack hopeless romantic. Well, maybe; he does admit that love confuses him.
“Sometimes it’s a feeling that brings me to tears,” Lightburn says. “On many levels it’s something that I am personally still figuring out. I just know it’s something I want to achieve and experience on a regular basis. So many take it for granted. To me, love is the glue that holds the universe together. The stuff the Dears are doing is dialed in long distance from the cosmos. So I guess everything, I suppose, just kind of falls into its place creatively.”
Was the cosmos talking to the Dears late last year when so much hype suddenly hit the city of Montreal? From Spin to Rolling Stone, the French-Canadian city is touted as the next (add yawn) Detroit, Seattle or, to many Canadians, the next Halifax. Such worthy bands as Stars, the Arcade Fire, and the Dears are suddenly grouped in this “next big scene.” The accolades have no doubt fueled record sales, but Lightburn doesn’t see the overall buzz as some saving grace for the city’s music.
“Frankly I don’t think Montreal deserves any more attention than any other scene. My fear is that because a few are getting a little international attention that it may create something that is in fact not there. That being said, however, all the bands from Halifax sounded the same. All the bands from Seattle sounded alike as well, as did New York, Manchester, etc. The list goes on. That’s just not Montreal’s style. None of the bands that are getting ‘talked about’ sound anything alike nor do they even sing about the same things.”
How will this sudden buzz-bin status affect the Dears’ rather delicate pop balance between culture and love? “We don’t have many intentions or are being terribly calculative about anything,” Lightburn says. “Knowing is one thing and a miracle in itself. Applying is entirely something else.”
Sunday, March 27, at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700). Shannon McCarthy is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org