Review Summary: A confident refusal to fade away.
The years following 2001s Sound-Dust
were certainly a turbulent time for Stereolab. The tragic and untimely death of backing vocalist Mary Hansen in 2002 coupled with the termination of all things romantic between founding members Lætitia Sadier and Tim Gane prior to the recording sessions could have spelled the end for the critically acclaimed avant-pop outfit. Despite these tragic factors and ambiguity surrounding whether the group would continue under the “Stereolab” name (or continue at all), the remaining members proceeded to head into the studio to record what would become their 8th studio album in the form of Margerine Eclipse
. Circumstances aside, it could be argued that the loss of a backing vocalist wouldn’t be a massive hurdle for most bands to recover from but the enchanting vocal interplay between Mary Hansen and lead vocalist Lætitia Sadier was something so intrinsic to Sterolab’s sound that her absence is starkly apparent. However, Sadier makes a valiant effort in shouldering sole vocal responsibilities and overall, Margerine Eclipse
is a hugely enjoyable listening experience.
Those familiar with the band will be aware of how its sound developed through the 90s from its original drone-driven indie-kraut, gradually incorporating more lounge and jazz influences with each subsequent release, inarguably peaking with 1999s Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night
. In contrast, Margerine Eclipse
demonstrates the first example Stereolab exhibiting something of a regression in sound, creating a record which encapsulates an overview of their previous discography in one succinct and delicious portion. While the futuristic lounge elements and warped liquidity remain, the jazz influences delicately woven into the fabric of the late 90s releases have been largely abandoned. The driving “Margerine Rock” serves as a nostalgic throwback to the playful electronic indie-pop of 1994s Mars Audiac Quintet
while tracks like “Margerine Melodie” and “The Man With 100 Cells” would slot in perfectly on the 1997 chill-out lounge masterpiece Dots and Loops
Stereolab have always possessed the ability to produce music that appears simple on the surface but boasts a much higher degree of complexity when picked apart and this album is no exception. The bubbling and popping synthesisers are intertwined expertly with the fluidity of the bass and drums to create intricately detailed layers of melody and rhythm which reveal new delights with each listen although most impressive is the apparent effortlessness with which they collate it all.
In juxtaposition to the signature carefree nonchalance, a subtle sadness emanates from segments of the lyrical content, obviously influenced by the tragic circumstances shrouding the recording session. “Feel and Triple” and “Hillbilly Motorbike” shows Sadier paying tribute to Hansen and addressing the end of her relationship with Gane respectively and are both examples of her using an unusually personal lyrical approach in contrast to her usual socio-political sneering. Unique in some elements, familiar in others and against all odds, Stereolab hit the nail squarely on the head once again with yet another great addition to its legacy and a worthy tribute to Hansen.