ne guitar and a capable high female voice. That’s about all that can be said to be missing from the equation from the newest offering from Stereolab, Margerine Eclipse—musically speaking. Quality-wise, it’s perhaps just as simple. Far from their worst collection of songs, Margerine Eclipse is just as manageable entry into the band’s oeuvre as any other album that they’ve released in the past five years. Because let’s be honest here: these records sound incredibly similar to one another. Sure, on Sound-Dust Jim O’Rourke turned in subtly beautiful flute and horn arrangements and on Cobra and Phases… there was a slightly more jazz influenced sound, but the progressions made between, say, Transient Random-Noise… and The Groop Played… are definitely not present here. Call this, say, Stereolab v. 3.3.
For those not familiar with the Stereolab sound, the group plays what amounts to space-age bachelor pad lounge jazz with sing-song vocals and intricate interlocking elements. The music is immaculately produced, usually featuring Jim O’Rourke or some other Chicago-bred luminary on the boards. The group also frequently brings in guests, this time the handiwork of Sean O’Hagan of the High Llamas is utilized in a number of the tracks. The lyrics usually alternate between French and English, many times focusing on Marxist themes. Though they are most definitely a political band, the ideas never get in the way of the music. It’s the music that does that.
Because, as with most Stereolab records of the recent past, there are a few clunkers that hold up the flow of the album or should have simply not been included in the first place. “Cosmic Country Noir” sidles in place before the middle of the album, offering a respite to the listener before the next two hard edged tracks. Just as easily described as filler, the song offers little to recommend it outside of the left turn it takes in the middle of its running time. Unfortunately both of the songs contained on either side are Stereolab by the numbers.
For every track that doesn’t quite work, though, there is one as equally expected and succesful. The title track, for instance, pushes Laetitia Sadier’s vocals into the front of the mix, amid a driving rock beat. It’s insistence is the key, pushing it into contention as one of their most immediate—it even contains a guitar solo in its under three minute running time—songs of the recent past.
But the problem here isn’t the fact that Stereolab has suffered in quality from the last time they recorded. The group’s consistent artistic statement with little flexibility for change or innovation upon an already distinctive sound is their own greatest strength and enemy, leaving them unable to win over new listeners with a directional change. But that’s never been the point. One might wonder, after so many albums of the same caliber and sound, though, what exactly is the point here?