For Stars, romance is always ridiculous. Each of the Canadian pop quintet’s four previous albums have mixed self-consciously overblown metaphors—with love manifesting itself as battles, resurrections, and blazes—and curiously specific scenes from relationship-focused procedural dramas. And so while The Five Ghosts never fully lets on whether its tales of haunting are meant to be taken as literal ghost stories, it does provide characters who are lost in their own far-out fantasies. The gravity-free haze of “The Last Song Ever Written,” in particular, plays almost as farce, with Torquil Campbell assuring us of various finalities—“This is the last time you’re gonna lose someone, after this it’s you and your friends”—on an album full of examples of how love and hurt never end, even in death.
The band has never sounded cleaner, brighter, or more indebted to ’80s synth-poppers like Tears For Fears than it does here. Relatively few tracks bother with low-tempo balladry; instead, there’s a slew of keyboard-driven, lovey-dovey anthems that listeners could jump rope to. “We Don’t Want Your Body” is a shockingly swaggering slice of bona fide death disco. And yet, while it’s all tricky, well-crafted music about heartbreak, nothing here breaks hearts the way the best Stars tracks over the years have done. Instead, Stars settle for big hooks and big emotions that inspire more admiration than empathy.