Dear little band

KIERAN GRANT

, Last Updated: 4:40 PM ET

All too rarely, along comes an album that brims with such vivid passion and personality that, when it stops spinning, you're left worrying about what that personality does when the guitars are put away and the band goes home.

By the end of End Of A Hollywood Bedtime Story, the suave and sensational debut disc from Montreal "pop romantique" outfit The Dears, heartbroken frontman Murray Lightburn sounds ready to steer his Alfa Romeo convertible clear off the cliffs into the Cote D'Azur.

The album's that good.

It's with some relief that I reach Lightburn by phone recently, alive and well in his Montreal apartment. Turns out he doesn't even own an Alfa Romeo.

"I have ways of dealing with my emotions," says Lightburn, who leads The Dears at the El Mocambo Saturday.

"I've been making Rice Crispie squares and doing the dishes. Very domestic, very relaxing.

"That's the whole concept of the band and this album: Coming to grips with the curveballs you're thrown in your life. Rather than cry in your beer, you're energized by it."

The Dears' deepest real-life pains are reserved for songwriting.

End Of A Hollywood Bedtime Story, released early this month, combines the well-heeled romantic despair of Pulp, Heroes-era Bowie and Morrissey with a soaring orchestral pop sound tapped from Serge Gainsbourg and vintage European film soundtracks.

"It's not a first-listen record," the singer says. "We keep the highs high and the lows low, and the space in between is the world we've built."

Even with production limits typical of a low-budget independent album, the songs are sophisticated, with an odd, icy funkiness.

Lightburn's melodramatic melodies flicker with images of "Hollywood beds," "sunglasses and handkerchiefs" and "demi-format bottles of pills." Clearly, the man is fascinated as much with falling out of love as falling into it in the first place.

"You could be very broad about it and say these are love songs, and that it's a break-up album," Lightburn says. "But it's more about losing yourself in something -- a relationship, a band, whatever -- so that you've lost all touch with what's real. You build this whole other universe, and suddenly it's gone."

'Learned rock 'n' roller'

Consider it music made by and for angry people who also like paintings and flowers and strolls in the park.

"To me it's like being a learned rock 'n' roller," says Lightburn. "I'm 29 now, and I probably wouldn't have sung this way 10 years ago. Everything was so much more urgent. When you're younger everything has to happen yesterday. Now we're dealing with it in a more thoughtful fashion. It's all about balance."

Still, The Dears' history has all the chaos and emotional upheaval of one of their songs.

'Definitely gone'

The group was formed five years ago in the wake of the Britpop explosion, says Lightburn, "four boys in polo shirts and very much into fighting. Playing always meant confrontation. Once we played Toronto and the guitarist antagonized the drummer to the point where the drummer gave him a black eye. On stage. Those days are definitely gone."

The major change came in 1998 when Lightburn recruited keyboardist Natalia Yanchak, also a local DJ and underground radio personality. The singer is now the only original member, leading a band of players whose median age is 23.

"They play every show like it's their last," he says. "For me, it all comes back to the balance."

The Dears hope to return to Toronto in July for an expanded show with backing "symphony," the Cosmopolitan City Orchestra.


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