Love -- as Pat Benatar sagely noted -- is a battlefield, and on the remarkable third album from Montreal indie-rock collective Stars, the bullets have been spent, the mines exploded, and all one can do in the aftermath of romance gone awry is somehow find a way to survive a grievously injured heart.
Fire's wounds are deep. Seesawing between rueful chamber strings and horns and brighter guitar-pop jangle, opener "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" puts a brave face on despair as Stars singers Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan trade wishful-thinking verses in acting out a post-breakup encounter: "I'm not sorry I met you/I'm not sorry it's over," they insist. Ah, but regret and reentanglement arrive posthaste: "All I want is one more chance to show you you were right for me," Campbell croons, Morrissey-like, on "Reunion"; "I've unlocked the door but you can't walk away from me," the pair harmonizes on "The Big Fight," that ball of confusion mirrored by a yaw from torchy soul to a synth-happy New Wave outro.
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Stars has bloodier conflicts in mind, too, protesting the war in Iraq ("Celebration Guns") and raging against the Right (the anti-Dubya scorcher "He Lied About Death" features the priceless line, "I hope your drunken daughters are gay"). But the personal mostly trumps the political here, and if Fire offers no simple remedy for ailing hearts, its cathartic splendor (as in the Lush-meets-Ride lift of "Ageless Beauty") acts as a salve. As does Millan's closing affirmation on the soaring, spirit-swelling album capper, "Calendar Girl": "I'm alive, I'm alive . . ." Sometimes, that's all you can ask for.