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"If I was seeking to recommend them to a friend, I would invoke Delia Derbyshire and Regis Debre. Derbyshire is especially important given the band's predilection for old analogue synths and Moog technology, Debre purely for the Marxist dialectic content."

By Andrew Stevens


Stereolab - Radio 1 Sessions

Some form of compilation of the sounds of the massively prolific Stereolab was long overdue. From 1992's Peng! to last year's Sound Dust, the Lab have managed to put out an album year on year, an impressive feat by any band's standards. 2002's turn is taken up by a BBC Sessions compilation, the band being forgiven for their current respite by the fact that two members, Tim Gane and Laetitia Sadier, are bringing up their first child together. The group have been content to continue throughout their existence as the preferred band of other artists or music critics as opposed to the music-buying public. In the absence of any 'Best Of', this compilation will hopefully act as a spur for those tempted to dip into the band's work but not sure which of their nine studio albums or the three EP compilations to pick from.

Stereolab emanated from the same Too Pure stable as other bands of their era and ilk, Th' Faith Healers and Pram, though their own Duophonic label would later act as a showcase for the likes of Broadcast and La Bradford. The band came to our attention in the early nineties, at the tail end of the baggy era and before grunge kicked in. They managed to see off both and retained a sizeable fanbase thanks to the critical acclaim of the music press, though this did not translate into sales, despite considerable interest around the 'French Disko' track of the Jenny Ondioline EP that was given disproportionate airplay on Radio 1. The band even played the track live on Channel 4's proto-New Lad show 'The Word', a bizarre inclusion only equal to that of Huggy Bear's appearance on the show. Stereolab recorded some of their strongest material during the unfortunate Britpop era on records such as Mars Audiac Quintet, Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots and Loops, using the most leftfield and obscure influences.

The flavour of the tracks is very Anglo-French, inevitable really given the land of lead singer Laetitia Sadier's birth. Although the lyrics (many of which are firmly rooted in Marxism -- another uncommon feature for any band outside of the agit-prop realm) are mostly in English, the continental feel is inherent in their sound -- English bands just don't use Bossanova rhthyms really. If I was seeking to recommend them to a friend, I would invoke Delia Derbyshire and Regis Debray. Derbyshire is especially important given the band's predilection for old analogue synths and Moog technology, Debray purely for the Marxist dialectic content of the lyrics.

The group 'borrow' heavily from the likes of Neu! and Can, adding krautrock to their vast array of eclectic and leftfield influences -- soundtracks, bubblegum pop, library music, easy listening etc. Generally I don't go for BBC sessions collections, but then again I don't go for live albums either (Kick Out The Jams excepted, evidemment…) so who am I to judge? But if you have all the tracks elsewhere, in the way they were meant to be recorded, I don't really see the point (unless you're a militant completionist I suppose) -- there's always the argument that they are new versions of the tracks but sound quality suffers inevitably. However, I shall try and remain positive and point out that the record is worth having simply for 'Peng', 'Wow and Flutter', 'International Colouring Contest' and 'Brigette' alone. Worth a mention, purely for their titles, are 'John Cage Bubblegum', 'Moogie Wonderland' (take that Earth, Wind and Fire) and 'Heavenly Van Halen'. Evidentially these guys have a sense of humour as vivid as their record collections…

So, take the CDs of out of the sleeve, put it on, close your eyes and try to forget that Laetitia Sadier ever sang a duet with Damon Albarn on Blur's Parklife LP…

Shortly after this review was written, band member Mary Hansen was killed in a road accident when she was knocked off her bike. This review is dedicated to her memory.


Andrew Stevens lives in London and periodically attends Goldsmiths College. He works in urban renewal and city planning, fascinated as he is with architecture and cityscapes. His loves include techno music, disused underground stations and nuclear shelters, satire, brunettes and trashy fiction, in no particular order. His hates are too numerous to list or dwell on longer than five seconds.

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