Many great, innovative bands are never commercially recognized. Stereolab has been a rare exception to this trend.
The group is experimental, yet, as with the current album, retain a strong sensibility for pop worthy melodies that incorporate synthesizers with cheesy computer beeps and bloops you might expect to hear in a ’60s space movie. Yeah, it’s fun all right.
The song and album titles discourage listeners to take the band or its members too seriously. Stereolab’s music is an alternate reality, which feels like it’s set in a crowded cosmopolitan lounge set in the not-too-distant future.
Sadly, most people who have become familiar with Stereolab have probably done so through one of the many car commercials to which the band lends its music. But the band’s latest effort, Margerine Eclipse, aims to change that.
ME is Stereolab’s least experimental album and one that works as a sampled retrospective of its albums in the last 10 years. Coming a year after the death of Mary Hansen, one of Stereolab’s lead singers, the band should be forgiven if this approach seems a little sentimental.
Hansen was not replaced for ME, and there is a heavy sense that something is missing throughout the album. Laetitia Sadier’s solo harmonies speak of the band’s loss, even giving tribute to Hansen on “Feel and Triple.”
As if all too aware of the new band dynamic, Stereolab comes off as if it’s out to prove itself.
And by relying on older proven sounds (Emperor Tomato Ketchup often comes to mind) and leaner song lengths, it appears to be a conscious effort for accessibility to win over new fans.
They come out swinging and ready to throw themselves more aggressively into the band’s sound palette. This works best on “Margerine Rock,” probably the most infectious song on the album.
“Hillbilly Motorbike” betrays the album, showing how it runs a bit low on gas, which, as it is track nine of 12, isn’t bad.
ME is strongest when it keeps moving along, and this is a sluggish track where the album hits a monotone.
However, “Dear Marge” closes out the album with at least a moderate success.
This track isn’t as tight as others on the album and is the best example of mixing experimentalism with pop.
Hardcore fans may be disappointed since ME feels like a nervous effort of a band wondering if it still has the magic.
Songs come in varying juxtapositions with sketches of songs that contrast with one another rather than blended, as in a sound collage.
The album starts off with “Vonal Declosion,” and is a perfect summary for what comes afterwards. It’s a good, familiar sounding song for Stereolab fans, but the band does not seem fully engaged in it.
Something is missing. Is it simply Mary Hansen?
Though it does not feel as though Stereolab resolved Hansen’s absence on this album, ME is a worthy effort from a great band.
Contact Brad Valentine at firstname.lastname@example.org