It could be said of Laetitia Sadier that her career has been governed by journeys. One of the main themes of her Stereolab side-project Monade was “becoming”, of continually opening doors both musical and personal. Indeed, the journey from bedroom-bound spare-time project to full band with records and tours was one such journey. The same could be said of the lengthy and labyrinthine trajectory of Stereolab too, what with Sadier and Tim Gane’s failed union and the band’s 20-year lifespan apparently now on hold. It is totally apt, then, that Sadier’s first album released under her name alone is entitled The Trip, given that her own personal trip has been a varied and evolving one.
Beginning with “One Million Year Trip”, an account of Sadier’s sister’s suicide, the album leans heavily on this crutch of journeying. Describing the event as a journey in itself is a stark way to put it, but the lush guitar textures and fluid structures imbue it with welcome warmth, Sadier’s insights touching rather than flippant given the breeze of the music. Musical fluidity is very much the order of the day as the record progresses: “Fluid Sand” is instrumentally adventurous in a similar manner to Monade’s commingling guitar work, but Sadier is adding dimensions as she goes. Piano thuds on the offbeats, continually complicating vocal harmonies and open-string chords combine to ringing, winning effect.
Sadier has proven in the past that cover versions are well within her capability, lending a sophisticated, doe-eyed sheen to Chic’s “At Last I Am Free” with Monade. so the inclusion of three covers (well, two-and-a-bit, anyway) on The Trip doesn’t seem too excessive. In truth, only two of them work properly, but all are charming enough. Wendy and Bonnie’s “By the Sea” is funked up with conviction (strangely, the original song appears at the very beginning of Super Furry Animals’ Phantom Power record, and the backing vocalist on Sadier’s “Statues Can Bend” sounds exactly like Gruff Rhys… is it him, one wonders?), while her version of Les Rita Mitsouko’s “Un Soir, Un Chien” is full of disco urgency.
The misstep comes when Sadier attacks Gershwin’s “Summertime”. She does so altogether too quickly, in the wrong time signature (possibly a conscious decision, but nevertheless a stifling one) and with the wrong underlying chord structure for the melody’s path. It comes off as more of a doodle than anything more complete. A shame, really, because the prospect of a voice as viscous and strong as Sadier’s tackling a vocal classic is a sumptuous one indeed.
That said, The Trip is Laetitia Sadier’s most confident sounding work apart from Stereolab. Melodic throughout and arranged with her eyes on the fullness of the sound, it is leavened with highlights. In truth, the biggest flaws are that, though it’s thematically taut to begin with, any threads that link the album dissolve as it progresses, and that Gershwin cover is a slight disappointment. Aside from that, the fulsome decadence of Sadier’s sound is enough to carry the album at all times, a reminder that she possesses a uniquely charming voice and equal brains as a songwriter.