Alive to Every Smile

The story of the Trembling Blue Stars is an oft-told tale: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl form OK jangle-pop band called the Field Mice. Boy and girl break up, as do Field Mice. Boy develops pathological addiction to girl, forms new band called Trembling Blue Stars and writes song after song about how much he misses, loves and pines for girl. Sweet, ain’t it?

The boy in this case is Robert Wratten, a Brit who has an unparalleled gift for the poetry of heartbreak — even if this gift sometimes makes him sound like the world’s most polite stalker. “When we see a chance to be loved/Who knows what we’re capable of?” he sings on “With Every Story.” Like a twee version of Joy Division or a more intimate Magnetic Fields, Wratten’s music generally consists of a gentle wash of synths and guitars, surrounding melodies that straddle the line between dejection and hope. There’s not much deviation from the Stars’ practiced formula on Alive to Every Smile. The opener, “Under Lock and Key,” is a stormy bit of pop murk, propelled by a drumbeat that’s been distorted beyond all recognition. But things soon settle back down into Wratten’s well-worn path of subdued tunefulness.

Luckily, his lyrics have never been more interesting. His romantically obsessed psyche flirts with denial, anger, depression and acceptance without ever really touching down on any of them. It’s top-notch torch carrying and Wratten is so obviously wounded that you’ll feel sorry for him — even if he’s the sort of person you’d want to keep the hell away from your daughter. If nothing else, the Trembling Blue Stars provide one of the best voyeuristic glimpses into a broken heart you’ll ever get.

E-mail Chris Willie Williams at [email protected].

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