Label: Drag City
On her solo debut, Stereolab singer/co-founder Laetitia Sadier steps out from the band, works with producers Richard Swift and Emmanuel Mario, sings some in French, does some covers and delivers The Trip, which sounds, well, pretty much like a Stereolab album, but with the more experimental impulses reigned in. If you like the band, you’ll probably like this; if they’ve never been your cup of tea, this probably won’t change your mind.
Stagnation (or consistency, if you’re feeling generous) has plagued Stereolab for most of the ’00s; albums like Sound-Dust and Margerine Eclipse were pleasant as background music or collections of interesting sounds, but not much more. They were one of the ’90s most innovative bands, drawing from a- for the time- unpredictable non-rock pool of influences that included Krautrock, Esquivel, vintage keyboards, ’60s lounge music and Ye-Ye, and having worked with post-rock titans like John McEntire and Jim O’Rourke. Their name conjured up images of lab-coated musicians tirelessly striving for the perfect Moog sound or Motorik beat. Sadier sounds less lab-bound here and a little lighter and more relaxed. There are no epic-length drones or endless Autobahn grooves, but rather a 12-song album that is concise and compact.
Unfortunately, it’s also not very compelling or creative. Sadier’s voice, while warm and melodic, has never been very strong, and I always thought it sounded better when she was singing in French as a guest vocalist on songs by Luna and Blur. It’s easy to like but easy to tune out, as is most of the album. “One Million Year Trip” doesn’t live up to its ambitious sci-fi title but does have the pristine keyboards and retro-future vibe that her band perfected. “Statues Can Bend” feels as if it could have come out in the ’90s and, like Air at its weaker moments, could be background music for boutique hotels or hip salons. Even at 12 songs and under 40 minutes, The Trip is poorly paced and sequenced, with three short, unnecessary instrumental clips scattered throughout. In “Ceci Est Le Coeur” (one of the few French songs), the drums drop out, the song slows down and Sadier lets out a mild sigh, which the listener might be inclined to do as well, more out of boredom than frustration.
The two best songs on the album are actually covers, one of sister act Wendy & Bonnie’s breezy, easy-going “By the Sea” and one of French group Les Rita Mitsouko’s “Un Soir, Un Chien,” (an evening, a dog), which is perhaps the most Stereolab-ish of the bunch, full of sci-fi keyboard bleeps and bloops and dreamy vocals. There’s also a curious, spare, abbreviated cover of the classic Gershwin/Heyward song “Summertime,” which, given the iconic versions by Sam Cooke and Janis Joplin, among others, is irrelevant.
It’s unclear whether the title refers to a literal, musical or drug-related trip, but whichever she intended, this trip doesn’t really take you anywhere.