Did we really need The Best of Stars?
As any music nerd knows, Best-Of compilations are notoriously hit-or-miss. For every 1 (the seminal collection of the Beatles’ #1 singles) or Songbook: Vol. 1 (the hard-to-find Super Furry Animals best-of, which serves as a wildly good introduction to the band), there’s Radiohead: The Best Of (the cash-grab put together by Capitol Records after the band left the label) or the occasional Best Of Morrissey that provides incremental additions to the “best of” bucket. At worst they serve as a feeble attempt to get money for little effort, but at their best, they give a listener a sampler platter for a band with a (presumably) long career, to help even out the fact that listening to a new band, album by album, can be daunting.
Enter Stars and LaGuardia: The Best of Stars. The Canadian chamber-pop/Broken Social Scenesters Stars have been around for nearly a decade and have nine albums (and a handful of EPs) under their belts, which provides a wonderful array of songs to pull from throughout their ever-shifting career. Every one of their albums, save for their non-Arts & Crafts debut Nightsongs, gets representation on LaGuardia – the EPs are largely left alone, save for the inclusion of “Undertow” and “Going, Going, Gone” from their underrated 2008 EP Sad Robots, which makes perfect sense from a sequencer’s standpoint – all told, LaGuardia is already a 90-minute slab, and adding more to it would just make it a sluggish listen.
For those who have followed the band – especially during the period in the mid-Aughts where they were at their most visible, namely 2004’s Set Yourself On Fire and 2007’s In Our Bedroom After the War – many of the songs included here shouldn’t be a surprise. No collection of Stars songs would be complete without classics like “Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” “Ageless Beauty,” or “Take Me to the Riot,” but where the collection succeeds in the tasteful choices in other songs: why not follow “Take Me” with the Feistian “My Favourite Book” just like it does on In Our Bedroom? LaGuardia arguably helps underscore the potential complaint that Stars are somewhat samey, but it provides a tastefully even and balanced listen.
What listening to LaGuardia highlights is the fact that Stars actually have quite a lot of very good songs. While the band have had limited success in achieving the same heights of the aforementioned hot streak, their albums still have hits on them. The Five Ghosts’ “Dead Hearts” and “Trap Door” from No One is Lost are remarkable songs in their own right, while “Fluorescent Lights,” the sole inclusion from 2017’s No One Falls in Love Under Fluorescent Lights – combined with the great standalone track “Ship to Shore” from last year – go a long way to show that the band still have some gas in the tank.
Did we really need The Best of Stars, though? That isn’t a dig: they’re a great band who are still making fun records worth hearing. But it’s a best-of record that leaves you asking “Who is this for?” and “Is that band breaking up now?” and “Where the fuck is “The Night Stars Here”?” But really, LaGuardia feel like it was unintentionally designed to be a way for fans of the band to get an hour-and-a-half, all-killer dose of the band without any of the filler that goes into even the best of the band’s records. With that in mind, it feels like a way for the band to gently tell the casual listener, “Hey – we’re still here, and we still make great songs!” by making them listen to some new shit before they get around to “Your Ex-Lover is Dead.”