PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


God Help the Girl: God Help the Girl

Belle & Sebastian mastermind Stuart Murdoch's latest project is as likeable as anything he's done.

God Help the Girl

God Help the Girl

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2009-06-23
UK Release Date: 2009-06-22

Stuart Murdoch's latest project requires some explanation. It's not a Belle & Sebastian album, but the members of Belle & Sebastian perform on it, and two of the 14 tracks are covers of the group's songs. Murdoch sings on it, too; but doesn't take the lead role that he does in his main gig. But just as much as Belle & Sebastian, and as much as the material he's put out under his own name, God Help the Girl is a Stuart Murdoch project. This album -- the first of a planned two from the recording sessions completed so far -- is being billed as a "musical narrative". What this means may be some combination of feature film, documentary, or just a fancy marketing-friendly framing of what is essentially a lovely stand-alone album. In any case, there's a story.

The original advertisement, placed in the local paper, read "Girl singer needed for autumnal recording project. Must have a way with a tune." And gave some clues: "Ballpark, Ronettes, Friend and Lover, Twinkle". To put that in context Friend and Lover were a husband-and-wife folk duo from the '60s; the Ronettes were, of course, the seminal girl-group of the '60s; Twinkle and Ballpark are too obscure for me. Murdoch's original idea may have been to create a '60s girl group in modern incarnation, but things have thankfully turned out somewhat closer to Murdoch's own indie-literate sound. Well, when your backing band is Belle & Sebastian, you're not going to stick to "Be My Baby".

Murdoch's music brings a warm familiarity; you often find yourself wondering where you've heard his songs before. God Help the Girl isn't helped in this odd quality by the fact that two of the songs are well-recognized Belle & Sebastian favourites. "Funny Little Frog", and "Act of the Apostle", both from The Life Pursuit, are slowed down and jazzed-out here. Their timbre, and the differences from the originals, really defines God Help the Girl. Where we had earlier upbeat indie pop and Murdoch's brittle tenor, the new versions are more expansive, and more reliant on piano and strings. The switch to female voice is almost revelatory. It clarifies the character, especially on "Act of the Apostle", in a way that's completely consistent with the rest of the album.

The characters in Murdoch's songs are never as straightforward as they first appear -- in other words, they're human. Often, they'll declare one thing and be shown to embody the opposite; characteristically, this contrast is played for subtle irony instead of existential disillusion. On "God Help the Girl", surely one of the best pop songs to be written this (or any) year, Catherine Ireton begins "There is no way I'm looking for a boyfriend." She's upbeat and contrarian. But it's all a bluff, because she sits "for hours just waiting for his phone call". Later, "If You Could Speak" introduces a different character, lovely and lonely but content in a "checkered shirt and a dress". Like much of Murdoch's music, the melodies fit like a comfy sweater, pulled down over your hands in front of the fire. Or at least, they conjure up this romantic, pastoral vision. Yes, there's whistling and fingerclicks. Don’t hate on the form. We fall in love with these melodies because, in a large part, we are caught up in the characters Murdoch's created for us.

The vividness of these characters bodes well for a future film (if it is made), and hearing these songs in the setting of an indie hipster-musical would surely be something to get excited about. It is true that the songs have more of a musical theatre flavour than Murdoch's previous work. Call-response duets make up a fair chunk of the album, and Murdoch allows his singers the latitude to warble, occasionally, in that declarative way of musical theatre. "Perfection as a Hipster" trades off lines of romance and rejection; "Pretty Eve in the Tub" swirls back and forth over a light piano quintet.

Over all this gloss, Murdoch's created a set of perfect pop songs. It's almost too lovely, but then lovely's great sometimes too. God Help the Girl, old-fashioned and without artifice though it may be, is supremely welcoming. Its charm -- and those tunes! -- are likely to make it an album you find yourself returning to, again and again, for the simple joy of listening to it. I really hope God Help the Girl the film gets made, but if it doesn't, this album and any that follow are more than enough indeed.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





20 Songs from the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.