Chemical Chords

Stereolab learn to stop being boring and love the pop

It’s difficult to listen to a Stereolab album after watching Flight Of The Conchord’s parody of fey French pop (‘Foux Da Fa Fa’). Indeed, I sniggered a bit (particularly during album opener ‘Neon Beanbag’). So let me put my biases on the table. Stereolab were a band I wrote off a long time ago as sickeningly tasteful but not very interesting, kind of like tofu, Scandinavian furniture or Chloe Sevigny. Anyway, I must now sulkily admit that I may have been posturing to impress a girl when I originally said that; because this is a really enjoyable album of beat-pop, with amazingly well-arranged sumptuous, spacious and never clashing layers of guitar, electronic filters, harpsichords, organs, strings and brass (most impressively circular on ‘Three Women’).

Perhaps Stereolab have gotten so tasteful they’re tacky, or perhaps a few years worth of property-discussing dinner parties turned me from a boy to a (boring) man (surely not), but one way or another, this record is filled with hooks, swelling baroque string sections, and glittery musical nooks and crannies. So now Stereolab seem more like a big stately cake being thrown around a drunkard’s wedding, than the fey shoegazey tofu band I dismissed so callously in my youth (in favour of The Eagles mainly). And sure, singing in French (for most of it) is a great trick and means I can’t cruelly analyse the lyrics (which is a hobby of mine, and no, I wasn’t bullied at school), but then I suspect the lyrics are beside the point. So my only real quibble is that some of their glittery varnish rubs off in parts of the second half of the record (it’s 14 tracks long) and sometimes they begin to sound tasteful again (‘Pop Molecule’ is particularly darkly boring). But with tracks like ‘Neon Beanbag’ (okay, I laughed at it in the first line of this review, but it’s still really good), ‘The Ecstatic Statie’ and ‘Chemical Chords’ they can afford a couple of duds and still get 4 out of 5. It just goes to show that only great things can be skewered by parody.


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