If post-punk revival is the musical equivalent of fast food, then Civilized is most assuredly its Happy Meal. Stellastarr*‘s third full-length release is a friendly and highly polished slice of guilty pleasure, neatly packaged and audience-tested in an obvious bid to maximize its mass palatability. Yet despite the naked manufacturing (some of which includes blatant thievery from Bloc Party and similar bands), Civilized is highly effective in its role as sonic junk food, dishing out sharp hooks and self-deprecated narratives with brevity and ease. Perhaps empty-calorie music needn’t be empty-headed after all, as evidenced by the clever whimsy of vocalist Shawn Christensen, whose goosey, fluctuating performance falls somewhere on the vocal spectrum between the melodrama of Robert Smith and David Byrne’s sly playfulness. As with everything on the album, Christensen’s flaky display is just one of many quirks aimed at lending the band a more genuine persona amid all the prepackaging. Still, as Christensen and his bandmates genuflect across the cyclic percussion of “Robot” and the wiry guitar of “Tokyo Sky,” their sincerity seems rather unimportant. Civilized is nothing if not a glossy, grand act, its welcoming veneer far more interesting than whatever truth lies behind the curtain. Indeed, as listeners take in the silly exchanges between Christensen and bassist Amanda Tannen amid the poppy high school dance atmosphere of “Prom Zombie,” they’ll realize that true beauty lies in Stellastarr*‘s brisk escapism, no matter the insincerity of their craft.
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