Laetitia Sadier 2024
Photo: Marie Merlet / Pitch Perfect PR

Against All Odds, Laetitia Sadier Is Still ‘Rooting for Love’

Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab sees love as a solution for our contemporary ills, whether personal, political, or planetary. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Rooting For Love
Laetitia Sadier
Drag City
23 February 2024

Rooting for Love is a surprising album title from Laetitia Sadier, the lead vocalist and co-founder of Stereolab. During the 1990s, Robert Christgau dismissively characterized Stereolab as “Marxist background music” – a summary that was politically apt, if artistically misleading. From a musical standpoint, Stereolab inventively blended the drone electronica elements of krautrock – especially those of Faust and Neu! – with guitarwork reminiscent of the Velvet Underground to create an inimitable pop sound, both nostalgic and future-forward in disposition. 

Likewise, from a lyrical standpoint, Stereolab did indeed insert political messages into their songcraft, though with less dogmatism than Christgau suggested. The track “Ping Pong” from Mars Audiac Quintet (1994) is the most cited example of the band’s political views, with its invocations of “the historical pattern” and “the economical cycle” and the “millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents”. The song’s bouncy pop structure served as a Trojan horse for an abbreviated discussion of the world economic structure. This was not doctrinaire Marxism, but neither did Stereolab succumb to the routine fodder of interpersonal relationships informing many rock lyrics.

Hence, the initial surprise of this new album’s conspicuous focus. Yet, for listeners of Laetitia Sadier’s recent work, this attention has long been gestating. Rooting for Love is her fifth solo LP since 2010’s The Trip, released shortly after Stereolab went on hiatus. The matter of love is a topic she has increasingly explored in her post-Stereolab oeuvre with songs like “Then I Will Love You Again” from Something Shines (2014) and “Love Captive” from Find Me Finding You (2017). With her cover of “Un Soir, Un Chien” by Les Rita Mitsouko from The Trip, the French-born Sadier playfully compares herself to a submissive dog at her lover’s feet. 

The difference with this new LP is that Rooting for Love puts the title subject front and center without irony. By virtue of this placement, her engagement is more transparent but also more complex. These aren’t ordinary love songs. In Sadier’s usage, the word “rooting” is as ambiguous as the word “love”, denoting the promotion of love but also the idea of digging or searching for love. Furthermore, she sees love as rooted (and routed) through networks and society, comprising a revelatory communal act that begins with the individual. For Sadier, love is ultimately transformational, potentially on a planetary scale.

The first track, “Who + What”, initiates this discourse of thought. “On the verge of becoming citizens in a universe much larger than our aspirations, more complex than all our dreams,” the chorus goes, setting the LP’s context. A later track, “The Inner Smile”, has a call-and-response format with the lines, “Become aware of the planets above, conjugate with the earth beneath / The sun shines in front of you, feeling every chamber of your heart.” Rooting for Love may not regard the world economy, but Sadier is still thinking on a systemic level. 

Grounding these cosmic musings is the music itself. There is an effortless quality to Rooting for Love, with Sadier needing little more than her voice and a simple guitar riff to sketch a compelling pop hook. Her vocals are unfailingly expressive and mesmerizing, constituting their own instrument layered with other voices in the Choir, the backing ensemble on this album. Sadier’s singing played a similar role in Stereolab by foregrounding a human element against their frequently dense, synthpop background. Indeed, three tracks here are in French, underscoring the spirit of internationalism that has defined her work, but also how the enjoyment of this LP does not entirely hinge on grasping its intellectual content, whether in French or English.

Like Laetitia Sadier’s previous solo work, Rooting for Love sounds more stripped down than Stereolab. Nonetheless, tracks like “Protéïformunité” (especially the coda) and “Une Autre Attente” recall the compositional methods of Emperor Tomato Ketchup (1996) and Dots and Loops (1997). Other songs like “Don’t Forget You’re Mine” and “Panser L’inacceptable” (not to be confused with “penser l’inacceptable”) go in directions that lean more fully on the beguiling qualities of Sadier’s voice. The former’s intro emulates the conversational singing of Joni Mitchell. Meanwhile, the penultimate track, “New Moon”, faintly imitates Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon”, with its melancholic rhythm guitar, before launching into a more uplifting space at the end.

With ten tracks at 42 minutes, Rooting for Love is an exploratory work that never settles into a single groove or unified message despite its residing theme. This assessment is not to say that it is inconclusive or uncommitted. “L’objectif est de limoger l’ignorance, d’interrompre le cycle sans fin de la souffrance,” Sadier sings on “Protéïformunité”, which translates as “The goal is to remove ignorance, to interrupt the endless cycle of suffering.” Furthermore, the album’s closer (“Cloud 6”) ends abruptly and pointedly with the lines, “The universe puts her hand on your shoulder, whispers in your ear / This armour is keeping you from the gifts I’ve given you / I’m not fucking around, you’re halfway dead.”

Similar to her past work with Stereolab, which regrouped in 2019, Laetitia Sadier uses pop music as a vehicle for social criticism. In this instance, Rooting for Love approaches the title subject from different perspectives with the intention of decentering strictly romantic versions of love. But more than this, she sees love as a solution for our contemporary ills, whether personal, political, or planetary. For Sadier, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Rooting for Love is not Marxist by any crude stretch, but Laetitia Sadier still beholds a radical worldview, with love’s potential to enable revolution by other means.

RATING 8 / 10