It’s astounding that Stereolab has been putting out records on Elektra for eleven years. To think a band that was a risky sign in the first place could remain on a prominent major longer than many of their contemporaries is pretty unbelievable. They haven’t a hit single to their name. Commercial radio won’t touch their albums. They’re aeons away from marketable nubile teen pop songstresses. Their songs are mostly Marxist slogans, and half of them are in French.
That said, Margerine Eclipse, the groop’s ninth album, could be a potentially rewarding release for the Warner Bros. subsidiary. Stereolab’s songwriting is tighter than ever, and since 1996’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup, the band’s production has been utterly flawless. While this is all fine and good, Stereolab has never put out any bad records, and even their mediocre ones are better than three-quarters of most labels’ outputs. Unfortunately, good records don’t necessarily move units.
On Eclipse, however, there are at least four songs that have the hooks to propel the band into chart-topper status. (Okay, they probably won’t.) But there is substantial potential for one of these songs to nudge Stereolab out of the realm of mere indie fandom. Album opener “Vonal Declosion” alone is a sonically dense track, layered with cleanly plucked guitars and washes of analog synth. Laetitia Sadier finally achieves a wider vocal range, as displayed in the gorgeous chorus.
Although “…Sudden Stars” was previously released on the Instant O in the Universe EP, its inclusion here gives it a second chance to be noticed. “Stars” is an equally beautiful track, with Sadier actually singing more personal lyrics than usual, though “Feel and Triple,” a tribute to the late Mary Hansen, is significantly more touching.
“Margerine Rock” and “Bop Scotch” show a side of the band that hasn’t emerged in about 8 years — Stereolab the rock band. The former is essentially a slower re-write of Ketchup‘s “The Noise of Carpet.” But the latter is an exhilarating mix of hard-driving beats and surfy riffs. In typical false start technique, the `lab introduces us to programmed beats and clean chords before jumping into some good old-fashioned rock `n’ roll.
By the band’s standards, Margerine Eclipse does little to change their tried-and-true post-rock formula. The differences heard here are subtle, but noticeable enough to perk the ears of longtime listeners. Elektra must be a very patient label to withstand the band’s slow burn and not leave them to subsist on a lower budget label. But even without the hit singles and Top 40 Radio, each Stereolab album guarantees the label thousands of record sales worldwide. But one can’t help but think there’s an exec sitting in his office, bobbing his head along to the album, insisting on keeping the band for personal reasons, rather than professional ones.
Saint Etienne – Good Humor
Komeda – What Makes it Go?
The Sea and Cake – One Bedroom
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.