Stereolab: Margerine Eclipse

Jason Korenkiewicz


Margerine Eclipse

Label: Elektra
US Release Date: 2004-01-27
UK Release Date: 2004-02-02

Few bands in the canon of rock music can argue to be as inimitable as Stereolab. In a society that rewards artists for their assimilation to the styles and sounds of others, it is rare to find an act that so firmly resists replication or is influenced by outside stimulus. Many have tried, hell there is a whole label out in Chicago built around the challenge, but none have been able to capture the joy and exuberance that is so essential to the trademark Stereolab sound. The magnitude of their contribution was put under the microscope with 2002's comprehensive ABC Music: The Radio 1 Sessions which collected 32 live performances recorded over the years by the band for BBC 1. What is illustrated by this collection is the refreshing approach to sonic arrangements, songwriting, melody and harmony that Stereolab have upheld as their mission since day one. The release of their tenth full-length album Margerine Eclipse marks Stereolab's first album in more than a decade without guitarist and vocalist Mary Hansen who passed away in a tragic accident last year. Fret not though, because the elemental nature of the band remains intact. Finally breaking free of the jazz-infused meandering that plagued their past three albums, Stereolab returns to their winning strengths and, as a result, created a more focused and dynamic pop-oriented record.

Margerine Eclipse is the product of a mature band in the midst of a joyous celebration of life; brimming with a confidence and panache that is distinctly their own. This is without question their finest hour since the classic Emperor Tomato Ketchup. Stereolab has effortlessly discarded the dense and difficult song structures that plagued their last three albums and slipped back in time to reacquaint themselves with their ideas on harmony from Mars Audiac Quintet and the endless possibilities of band dynamics within the pop framework as heard on Emperor Tomato Ketchup.

From the opening panned drum introduction on first track "Vonal Decision" it is understood that we are being called back to planet lounge for an inspired return to form. All of the signature Stereolab traits are evidenced in the opening minute: the bass grooves, the Moog soars, guitars ring and electronics skitter against the percussion while Laetitia Sadier pines effortlessly in French. No longer controlled by a distant sense of cool, there is an urgency in Sadler's vocals and in Tim Gane's guitar playing that has been missing since the detached electronica of Dots and Loops.

"Margerine Rock" is an epic throwback to that would not be out of place on Emperor Tomato Ketchup or maybe in a more rudimentary way on the manic Transient Noise Bursts With Announcements. Sadler employs a bemused monotone and finally treats us to the first intelligible morsel of English lyrics for this dare to be missed radio friendly smash. Guitars and Moog are forced from the earth by a bombastic mainstream rock beat and the track swings with a cocksure exuberance that Stereolab has been bemoaned for losing in recent years. The production is so ace that it is difficult to discern whether or not the musical chatter in the background is vocals, analog synthesizers or clanging guitar leads. Whatever it may be, the addition completes "Margerine Rock", which in its use of both Motown and Sub Pop aesthetics reframed through a Stereolab filter becomes the pivotal composition on this record.

Tomfoolery and wordplay also remain a constant in the Stereolab lexicon on Margerine Eclipse as both "Margerine Melodie" and "Dear Marge" reference the album title and the explosive "Margerine Rock". Although it is a completely different song there are elements of "Margerine Melodie" that feel as if it is a remix or even a derivative work of "Margerine Rock". Bass and keys pulse like the title track from a 1970s John Travolta film to provide the main rhythm while keyboards and guitars flit in and out at breakneck speed to support the simple fills programmed into a drum machine. In a rare turn, Sadler sings slightly behind the band making her English lyrics elliptical and difficult to pluck from the rest of the congested late night dance floor fare.

In contrast album closer "Dear Marge" is a three-part medley incorporating a mad mélange of styles into approximately seven short minutes. The first fuses electronics with acoustic elements to create a bizarre lounge flamenco hybrid, which may be a homage to electro-pop pioneer Juan Garcia Esquivel. While the second part is a more enigmatic vocal based composition it uses analog synthesizers, strings and looping percussion to evoke images of a last tango on Mars. The final segment is straight up disco featuring dirty funked up guitars, tambourine and a beat that has definite ties to Blondie's "Heart of Glass". All three tracks that make up the "Margerine" suite are essential listening and are excellent benchmarks of the breadth and poise that a mature Stereolab exhibits throughout this record. Whereas over the past few albums these tracks would have meandered and dragged on for minutes, here the goal is accomplished succinctly in roughly two minutes per segment.

One of the most amazing revelations about Stereolab over the years is the way that they insulate themselves from current musical trends. They have consistently nurtured their own musical ideas and dismissed a plethora of movements since their inception. In brief, they have dismissed grunge, Brit Pop, IDM,, and the garage rock blues revival in favor of their own notions on the essence of popular music. Ten albums on you would think that this blatant disregard for trends would start to wear on their creativity or at the very least expose them as creatures of extreme hubris. Even rock icons like U2 and R.E.M. have fallen victim to keeping up with trends from time to time, producing works that lean heavily on current styles or fixations.

Somehow Stereolab has continued to exist in the eye of the storm and the only real point of debate is not about cultural relevance, but rather where Margerine Eclipse ranks within their own catalogue. Given the vitality, creativity and maturity exhibited, Margerine Eclipse has earned its rightful place at the peak of their recording careerand deserves mention alongside The Groop Played Space Age Bachelor Pad Music, Mars Audiac Quintet and other timeless Stereolab albums.





Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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