Anything short of a bold manifesto on love, life, and desire would be surprising at this point for Murray Lightburn, passionate frontman for The Dears. (This is, after all, the songwriter who admitted in an interview to weeping when he met Morrissey, who'd asked The Dears to open for him.) The expected boldness—tipping slightly, as it should, toward swooning pretension—can be a gamble: Rafter-reaching emotions sometimes come across as dippy, or worse yet, not at all. Half of The Dears' sonically layered 2004 album, No Cities Left, suffered the latter fate, but the relatively stripped-down Gang Of Losers, the Canadian band's first for the hip Arts & Crafts label, unabashedly grabs for great things, and finds them almost every time.
For the first time, the cantankerous Lightburn matches his lyrics—from rapture to self-exploration to joy both lived and missed—perfectly with the music, which nods to Britpop but never succumbs to any genre trappings. His lyrics and delivery define the songs more than the music does, though: Losers introduces itself with the statement of purpose "Ticket To Immortality," in which The Dears "hang out with all the pariahs" and eventually promise, via a soaring crescendo, "the world is really gonna love you." It's the kind of magical pop moment regularly achieved by Lightburn's heroes in The Smiths and occasionally by the likes of Coldplay, and it's delivered so believably that its honesty is unquestionable.
And, remarkably, Gang Of Losers almost never lets up after that: Lightburn plays the petulant outsider perfectly because that's what he is, but there's triumph in his struggle, and he puts across complex feelings with simple thoughts that might sound like platitudes coming from a less-believable singer. ("Don't hate everyone 'cause you hate yourself," "no one should have to live all of their life on their own," etc.) The Dears even step deftly into more political territory with the jaunty "Whites Only Party," on which Lightburn, who's black, addresses the idea of being marginalized from a perspective that most indie-rock frontmen simply can't. And, like the rest of this brilliantly unafraid, audaciously listenable, forcefully enjoyable disc, it feels positively sincere. Just hope that Gang Of Losers doesn't make The Dears too famous, because a gang of winners could never strike these spectacular chords.