Starar - Who
Owain Paciuszko 17/11/2010
Baffled, that's the only way to describe my reaction to the music of Starar. Never judge a book by its cover, is a phrase that leaps to mind; here I was - duped by the cover art - expecting a country-tinged pop record influenced by The Carpenters but with a harder edge perhaps. Instead, opening track Baby, I'm Urs Tonite (the 'funky' mis-spelling should have clued me in) is a squidgy, heavily produced, vocoder-warped pop track that awkwardly marries the slightly flat, uninspired lyrics and voice of Jenna Starar to a electro-flavoured RnB style backing. It is, I'm sorry to say, pretty dire and sounds like a bad karaoke night cover of a slow-Sugababes track by someone whose lack of self-confidence starts to dampen their delivery.
Things don't improve on Maybe It's Too Late, sure, it's impressive to note that Jenna and her brother Steven are responsible for the arrangment, production and performance of this record, but strangely it feels like they're playing outside of their comfort zone. As if their desire is to create something that would match that cover art, but a surreal self-conscious pressure forced them to sellotape together this flacid record. Or, maybe that's just my own hopes that they've got better in them? The duo show that they are accomplished musicians, but the songs they're playing are generally insipid and flimsy.
I'm Close is a more laidback ballad, with a slightly retro Nikka Costa-tinge to proceedings that far better suits Jenna's creaky, croaky delivery; here softened and not stretched to breaking as it was earlier. In a way, this is closer to the album conjured up by that cover art and it raises the hopes that those first two tracks were just there to filter out the listeners who weren't going to give the band a chance! Things go decidely Dido as the song continues, but it's been a lot worse, so you're more than happy to let the dinner party background music guitar licks wash over you; it is, after all, inoffensive and reasonably pleasant.
Synth stabs stumble us back into less interesting territory, Walking By Myself is a disco love song with a slinky bassline, the kind of song they play so people can either get a drink or find someone they can dance with when the next tune starts. Elsewhere there's the kind of fairground ride plinky plonky melody familiar to Kate Nash-alikes on the fluffy and disposable So, I Still Cry For You; which is garnished with interesting New Age production flourishes. A burbling bass-line and drums strutting like Travolta in Saturday Night Fever provide a heartbeat to the contrasting and stilted lyrics ('So get on your evening train/If you leave me don't try to explain') and guitar of Brand New Wave, which consistently sounds like it's about to fade out.
Title aside Who Will Ya Hurt? starts well, with big rock drumming, a strident bassline and basic piano chords, unfortunately Jenna's vocal pulls it down when it should power the emotion of the song which sounds somewhere between Garbage and The Cardigans; but not at their best. Dopey pop nugget Seal It With A Kiss tells the tale of summery flings with lyrics as insightful as; 'We can go to the beach/I'll let you touch me.' Alas, it lacks the wry humour implied, instead aiming for a lightweight romanticism and a carefree spirit; as evidence by the chorus that begins with the unremarkable lyric; 'We'll have such a lovely time.'
Penultimate track Where The Road Goes sounds like Electric Light Orchestra scoring the end credits to a 'life affirming' road movie rom-com, which is apt as far as the track's title is concerned. The record closes with My Heart's Seen Better Days a soulful, jazzy track, that - as with I'm Close - fits the image this duo present, and whilst it doesn't quite manage to bridge the emotional distancing that keeps this record at arm's length, it does lend itself far better to Jenna's vocal range and creates some nice The Pipettes-esque girl-pop vocal harmony in places.
Fortunately this album is not as bad as the first two tracks will have you believe, but neither is it particularly that good. Ultimately it seems that Starar set out to create meaningless pop, and to that extent they succeed.