Stuart Murdoch’s New Project God Help The Girl ~ More Songs About Chocolate & Girls

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As previewed on Pop Junkie five weeks ago, Stuart Murdoch’s Belle and Sebastian sabbatical project, God help the Girl, was released yesterday (Monday 22nd June) on Rough Trade.

Being one of only a dozen thirty/forty-somethings in the country who doesn’t own a copy of Tigermilk, I have come late to the charms of B&S. I had a sneaky feeling that it would be my sort of thing and was one of the first discs I played when perusing my new girlfriend’s impressive record collection in the winter of 2008.

To recap as to why this is an offshoot project rather than a B&S album, Murdoch could not imagine himself singing the songs that were forming in his head, some five years ago. The songs, at least some of them, arrived before the elaborate, unsettling and not altogether complete story of Eve began to form.

Eve is a girl who sets out, like most of us did, with dreams, goals, ambitions. These were lofty, and why not, but reality doesn’t always play ball, does it? It certainly didn’t for Eve, whose part is sung by Catherine Ireton, a friend of a friend, who was discovered via extensive auditions overseen by Murdoch.

The package not only comes with lyrics, always handy for me, as I have cloth ears for the sung word. I tend to hear the voice as an instrument, rather than absorbing the literal meaning of words sung. In the CD booklet we also get Murdoch’s Story of Eve. The sort of narrative that once upon a time would have been called a cautionary tale. It’s not a happy tale, far from it, and although there is a hint of a happy ending, it is by no means foregone.

As for the music, well, I thought I was going to have to be lukewarm and I don’t really see the point in writing webpage reviews of discs that one is indifferent about. I see Pop Junkie as a celebration of great music, with occasional little newsworthy bulletins announcing forthcoming gigs or releases. However, I must say that it has taken some time, at least five listens, and that’s a lot for a disc that leaves one slightly nonplussed at first, but the album is good, maybe very good.

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A mini-masterpiece may be going to far, but it is obvious that Murdoch and his assembled clan of vocalists (nine in all, including Neil Hannon) and musicians (a whole bloody orchestra) have put a lot of time, thought, heart and soul into this project. As one who toils in an altogether different medium (and I don’t mean writing music blogs), I think it churlish to criticise another person’s heartfelt art, simply because it doesn’t fit snuggly into your cultural jigsaw.

I have read some reviews which claim that the album has strong Motown and girl group (meaning 60s girl groups) influences. I don’t hear either. The album is contemporary indie, albeit a contemporary that has been coloured by all the musics that have shaped indie over the last three decades. However, I do hear songwriting in the vein of the supreme Randy Newman and, to a lesser extent, Bacharach-David and Costello.

There is no Waterloo Sunset, Happy Together, Just a Little Lovin’ or Badhead (am I setting the bar too high?), but with every listen, new songs are bidding me a sunny hello.

For example, Pretty Eve in the Tub, a delicate, whimsical, boy/girl vocal with chamber accompaniement a la Colin Blunstone’s Say You Don’t Mind. One track that I did enjoy on first listen was the little jazzy kitchen sink interlude A Unified Theory. Oh, and of course, the Neil Hannon cut, Perfection as a Hipster, in which he duets with Catherine Ireton thus forming a very promising boy-girl partnership (this is where the Phil Spector influence has been detected – despite horrible snare drum sound).

Hiding Neath my Umbrella (faintly reminiscent of White Plains’ classic When You Are a King) and I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie are also both becoming favourites. I love the Shuffle to the left, Boogie to the right backing vocals on the latter.

Also included is a more-soulful version of the 2006 hit Funny Little Frog, sung by Brittany Stallings. It sounds like a good Style Council track, and that is not meant to be damning with faint praise, although I am fully aware that is how it’ll come across!

So, to conclude, Pop Junkie has the great pleasure of recommending this album to all lovers of good pop i.e. you.

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