Sweet-smelling essences? Hugs and smiles? Sweet kisses? Yes, it's the new album from Stereolab, with new, improved, emotionally engaged lyrics!
As usual, I didn't like it very much at first. There seems to be a little contest between the new, affective Stereolab and the old, lounge music loving avant-garde communist retro pop kitsch Stereolab. The result on Margerine Eclipse is a draw - But oh, how I'd love it if Stereolab let go and got all confused and emotional!
The first four tracks are a glimpse of the new Stereolab and, for me, c'est bon! It kicks off with Vonal Declosion, a catchy singalong (in French) which leads into Need to Be with its glorious "C'est la tentation/D'etre toute absorbee/De n'avoir plus a se soucier/du temps de notre vie." My French is merde, it's true, but Laetitia Sadier could be singing the ingredients of a bar of chocolate and I'd still get all dewey-eyed. (Aw shucks! I like emotions.)
"...sudden stars" ("...suddenly stars" on the Instant O EP) is a marvel, a wonder, a thing of gold-blue beauty. (That means I like it, by the way.) Still going with the new Stereolab idea, Cosmic Country Noir is a very nice waking-up choice - a lil' drum machine and a fresh morning sun guitar makes me come over all hopeful and optimistic (Surely not? Barbara H.)
Ms Sadier's deadpan voice sings "Hard to go through so much violence/To get to that forsaken place" - when I say deadpan I mean that if an angel sang in a deadpan voice it would sound like this.)
It's followed by the old Stereolab (not necessarily a bad thing, bear with me everyone!) on La Demeure - lyrically back to the old communist songs (think Spark Plug from Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Gus the Mynah Bird from Sound Dust.) The contradiction between lyrics about political philosophy (Ms Sadier, like Ornette Coleman, is a fan of Cornelius Castoriadis from Socialisme ou barbarie in the 1960s) and music which is happy or sad works well, but of course it isn't unique to Stereolab. Weill and Brecht's Seven Deadly Sins and Helene Weigel singing Hans Eisler are excellent precedents. But I wish Stereolab would ditch their retro tendencies - postmodernism is just so last century.
From La Demeure on, the album becomes more predictable musically - there's nothing to match "...sudden stars" - and it's kind of avant-garde MOR music, if that's possible. Maybe this is the point, but they've been doing it for every album and it sounds a little tired now.
The final track, Dear Marge, is a glimmer of the first part of the album (and wouldn't be out of place on Ms Sadier's lovely Monade album) but then it leads into the nothing-special 1970s pastiche Mass Riff from the last EP. Stereolab need to change: I love them, and when they're good they're great, but the lounge music/kitsch pop/bossa nova retro stuff sounds really stale now. Imagine Kurt Weill producing Saint Etienne! As it is Stereolab sometimes sound like they're walled up away from the world.
so, with songs like Jaunty Monty and "...suddenly stars" (from the EP)
and Cosmic Country Noir and Vonal Declosion, they're still capable of producing
something which makes me feel - well, happy! And that's an achievement these
/apr 15th 2004/