Stereolab - Margerine Eclipse
Stereolab released their maxi-EP Instant 0 In The Universe towards the end of last year and it was a brilliant five-track collection of songs that fluctuated violently between stomping euro-grooves and melodic ambiance, with lead temptress Lætitia Sadier's exotic vocals dancing on top.
Margerine Eclipse, the band's first full-length album release since the sad death of Mary Hansen, is a postmodernist's wet-dream. It's chock-full of genres, riffs, homages and technophilic noises to satisfy anyone pointing their musical taste towards either the past or the future. Whereas opening track Vonal Declosion feels as if you are being swept away on a tantalising voyage through a neon light show at warp speed, you are then projected into the retro-chic world of sixties space opera through second track Need To Be, in which you'd expect Barbarella to turn up at any moment. It's clear that there are no limits to where band leader Tim Gane can take Stereolab, and their production values are musically second to none.
Whereas power-chord rock is given a dusting-off in the aptly-named Margerine Rock, it is tracks such as Cosmic Country Noir, with its techno-bubbling and Margerine Melody, which sounds more than similar to Ron Grainer's Omega Man theme, where Gane and his colleagues sound the most at home.
This isn't rambling-electronicism, this is Gane in one of his most confident moods yet. Lush instrumentation flows fluidly through the album to form a cohesive base, and even though songs often change structure and tempo in mid-flow you always have faith in the places you are taken musically. Margerine Eclipse sounds like some sort of space-age concept album with the concept deliberately ommitted. It contains portions that seem to float in and out within the album, and whilst some fans may not be happy with the overt production values on show coupled with the 'bouncy' feel, casual onlookers might be completely turned on by the band for the first time. You could argue Stereolab have already broken through, but this could spark a second wave for the band and launch them to a generation who missed out on Britpop.
Only "...sudden stars" is extracted from Instant 0 In The Universe to form part of the album, and considering there were many songs of equal quality from that release, such as Microclimate and Mass Riff (itself creeping into the end of the album almost as a reprise) this shows the qualitative lengths the band have taken to form a 2004 masterwork. The new year is only a few days old, and in Margerine Eclipse we are already graced with an album that must figure amongst the next twelve-months' best pieces of work.