Stereolab – Margerine Eclipse (Elektra)
What do you say about a band that does everything right? It seems that with every release, London’s famed indie poppers Stereolab zero in on the ultimate infallibility of legendary artists like Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, and after 13 years in the game, they’re pretty darn close.
Their latest, Margerine Eclipse, comes on the tails of the sort of disaster that could have torn lesser bands apart – the loss of singer and keyboardist Mary Hansen, whose contributions were instrumental to Stereolab’s early success. Just over a year ago, after a decade in the band, Hansen died at the age of 36 when the bicycle she was riding was hit by a truck.
Stereolab charged on, with lead singer Laetitia Sadier’s voice carrying a newfound significance and their music continuing to evolve, develop, and improve. Margerine Eclipse, Stereolab’s first LP since 2001’s Sound Dust, may be one of their best. Drawing on new directions fleshed out in their 2003 EP, Instant O in the Universe, as well as perfecting old themes, Stereolab’s latest work is a fascinating journey into the vibrant world in which they reside.
And although the album’s concept may be less ambitious than Emperor Tomato Ketchup or even their full-length debut, Peng!, it nonetheless showcases Stereolab near the peak of musical credibility.
There are a few tracks on Margerine Eclipse that do lack the luster of their finest work, such as the rhythmic rambling of “Le Demeure” and the hyperactive “Hillbilly Motorbike.” I might call these tracks boring, but I somehow feel inclined to blame that on my own lack of patience. I could also claim that many of the songs sound similar to one another, but instead imagine their subtle differences must be going over my head. I could say the album starts strong and fizzles out toward the end, but the last song, “Dear Marge,” which closes with an awesome disco jam borrowed from “Mass Riff” on the Instant O EP, is like a goodbye kiss that lingers for days.
The echoing keyboards in “Need To Be” would be right at home in an ATB song, but would probably much rather stay right where they are. And the persistent background synth of “Feel and Triple” evokes pleasant memories of fellow Londoners the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
The truth is, any criticism I could extend toward Stereolab is preemptively rebuked by the longevity of their career and the intense creativity, beauty, and fun of their style. This is music to be enjoyed, not picked apart.