Stereolab have never been the most fashionable band in the world. A mixture of Marxist lyrics and Moog synths tend not to propel bands to the top of the charts. However, for a loyal band of followers, Stereolab can do no wrong, and every enigmatic murmer from vocalist Laetitia Sadier amounts to aural heaven.
However, the band’s world was shattered in December 2002 when founder member Mary Hanson was killed in a cycling accident. The typically eccentrically-titled Margarine Eclipse is Stereolab’s first album since that tragedy – although it’s not a fully fledged tribute per se, the spirit of Hanson pervades the album, with the most obvious nod being on Feel And Triple, with its sad backing vocals of, “Goodbye Mary”.
The band obviously felt the best way to pay tribute to Hanson was by carrying on as normal. Stereolab are never going to swing off into a new direction, and Margarine Eclipse is a prime example of this. The opening track Vonal Declosion is a fair idea of what to expect – there’s a late ’60s sound underpinning the track with some swooning vocals courtesy of Sadier.
There are moments on here that feel more like atmospheric pieces than songs in the traditional sense – Need To Be starts off like a dreamy film soundtrack before the drums kick in, with the French lyrics adding to the enigmatic effect. The highlight is probably Sudden Stars, which was featured on last year’s Instant O In The Universe EP. The song is beautifully arranged and the sudden switches in tempo lend it a real urgency that’s missing in some of the more laidback tracks here.
However as the album progresses it’s hard not to feel a distinct sense of “d�j� �cout�”. Although there are exceptions (the driving guitars of Margarine Rock, for example), there are only so many ambient, synth-heavy soundscapes the listener can take before they all start sounding very similar. Sadier’s vocals too, while undoubtedly seductive, can grate after a while.
So Margarine Eclipse is unlikely to bring Stereolab any kind of commercial breakthrough, but that will hardly bother them or their fans. This is a fine tribute to their much missed colleague, and while they’ll probably always remain an acquired taste, those people who have already devoured any of the band’s back catalogue will find much to please them here.