Find someone who hates Stereolab. Go ahead: Find a person who claims to be annoyed by the harpsichords, irritated by the analog synths, baffled by the lyrics (which, when not sung in lovely, mumbly French, are often about Marxism or hugs 'n' kisses). Let the critic say his piece. Then put on the 'Lab's newest LP, Margerine Eclipse. "But...but I can't stand Stereolab!" the listener will cry as his toes begin to tap, as his face stretches into a smile. "I mean, what is this Spanish-guitar-from-outer-space bullshi -- hey, wait -- this is all right!"
Stereolab is sometimes criticized for its molasses-slow musical evolution, for its tendency to reach into the same bag of tricks with each new album. This criticism is justified, perhaps, but let's not forget that Stereolab has one hell of a bag of tricks. Reach deep, and you'll find shimmering horns, party-worthy hip-hop beats, forgotten bits of movie soundtracks and foot-thumping disco tunes. Really listen and you'll hear that each album is not the same as the last, nor is it identical to the album that will follow. The music might be compellingly danceable (check out Emperor Tomato Ketchup) or blissfully hypnotic (give Dots and Loops a spin). Margerine Eclipse occupies a nice middle ground, with dreamy, acid jazz-infused tunes such as "La Demeure" giving way to peppy, gleeful tracks such as "Margerine Rock" (if the Lego Busy People had a theme song, this would be it). Margerine Eclipse may not get the party started, but it'll certainly keep it going.
With music this textured, it's a bit tricky to isolate a single instrument or effect, but founding member Laetitia Sadier's beautiful, sodapop-sweet voice continues to stand out. Her harmonies with Mary Hansen are sorely missed (Hansen was killed in a cycling accident in late 2002), but still Sadier's voice remains the unifying principle around which so much is built.
Uncut magazine's David Stubbs called a previous Stereolab album "yet another perfect, synthetic replica of a pop model that never was but should have been." The same can be said for Margerine Eclipse. Stereolab's albums may sound similar to one another, but this group sounds like absolutely no one else. Listen. Smile. Enjoy.