Stuart Murdoch, for it is he, ventures beyond Belle & Sebastian with the God Help The Girl project, a narrative, character-based album that is the soundtrack for a musical film due to be completed next year.
God Help The Girl allows Murdoch to indulge his love of Gallic pop and Scott Walker, with the album heavy on the strings and brass and loose on four square rock ‘n’ roll. There are also nine guest vocalists on show (some of which were recruited via a contest on the social networking site iMeem), the most famous being Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy.
When Murdoch imagined his story set to music he heard female vocalists, and with the exception of Murdoch and Hannon this is an album dominated by the female voice. Catherine Ireton of The Go Away Birds takes lead vocals on most of the tracks, which will hopefully provide a boost to her own career.
“I’m bored out of mind/To sick to even care”, Ireton intones at the start of the album, and the use of an old Belle & Sebastian song indicates that Murdoch will not be straying too far from familiar territory. Lonely, hip women figure prominently in the B&S canon, and the only difference here is that Murdoch has free rein to indulge his kitchen-sink drama fantasies to the full with a louche, doe-eyed vocalist on hand to give substance to his lyrics.
The rinky-dink melody of the title track disguises the helpless ennui of Ireton’s vocal, on which she asserts her independence while longing desperately for love.
Murdoch makes his vocal entrance on Pretty Eve In The Tub, a delicate piece of chamber pop that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on The Divine Comedy’s Promenade. It is one of the most interesting lyrics on the album, switching from the first person to a narrative role halfway through.
The less said about the creaky jazzisms of the instrumental A Unified Theory the better, but it quickly leads into the icy cool Murdoch/Ireton duet Hiding Neath My Umbrella. The track also serves to guide the narrative arc forwards with its note of optimism for a thawing relationship.
Newcomer Brittany Stallings takes lead on the album’s poppiest moment, a reworking of the B&S hit Funny Little Frog, introducing a welcome burst of soul into proceedings despite a worrying resemblance to Duffy.
Another contest winner Anna Miles joins Ireton and Murdoch on the clunky If You Could Speak, a track that betrays the album’s origins as a soundtrack. Much better is Musician, Please Take Heed, a jolly orchestral romp that manages to corral the spirits of Ennio Morricone and ELO into one song.
The instantly recognisable tones of Neil Hannon lend a touch of class to Perfection As A Hipster, although in reality the track is a second rate Divine Comedy/Belle & Sebastian pastiche with Ireton’s girl group styled vocals curiously out of place.
In truth, the album rather peters out in the second half. Come Monday Night is a pleasant but inessential ballad, while Asya from Seattle indie popsters Smoosh is an unusual choice of vocalist for I Just Want His Jeans (the title is the best thing about the track).
I’ll Have To Dance With Cassie is Murdoch by numbers with its tale of loneliness and sexual intrigue at a nightclub, while the closing A Down And Dusky Blonde rather spoils a pretty melody by giving vocal slots to five singers.
Pretty but inessential, God Help The Girl may make more sense when the film is finally delivered next year. Up until then this is largely of interest to Belle & Sebastian completists.