Stereolab’s rhinestone stud-spangled sound and its deliberately orchestrated air of fabrication have always suggested to my ears an astonishingly accurate imitation of what The Beatles might’ve sounded like if they’d composed the soundtrack to Olivia Newton-John’s Xanadu instead of ELO. Or even in collaboration with ELO. I can only assume they would agree with me, having called their latest album Fab Four Suture, because Roller Clashing Down Abbey Road would be too obvious. But the reference to the Beatles’ final studio album would’ve been appropriate, as Stereolab’s first album released in the States following their dismissal from the WEA is simultaneously a structural free-for-all and a glossy collection of diverse material. That’s probably because it’s not really an album at all but a collection of 7” singles that have been released in two 3-EP chunks, the first batch last year and the second simultaneously with the release of this compilation. Fab Four opens and closes with a starry, glam-rock shuffle “Kyberneticka Babicka.” Like a slice of Xanadu “Magic,” the shifting chords, squelching organ runs, and sustained vocal harmonizing provide a hypnotic overture, a call to skates as conducted (or DJed) by Sgt. Pepper himself. “Eye Of The Volcano” is self-consciously mopey, an ominous Hanna-Barbera mystery leitmotif whose lyrics probably mean something—to the extent that Stereolab’s lyrics can actually mean anything, as opposed to representing something—but apparently Stereolab’s fanbase stopped transcribing lyrics on the Internet three albums ago. And vocalist Lætitia Sadier’s low, smooth alto delivery of multilingual lyrics are usually mixed deep within the lounging synthesized tweeness, compounding the overt vagueness. Anyway, it drops the big “F” fascism, but the music tiptoes around the volcano’s edge precociously, never thematically summoning anything more incendiary than lava cake. It should be said that the Xanadu metaphor only stretches so far, as there is nothing uptempo and cathartic on the order of “All Over The World,” though the intricate drum programming on “Vodiak” seems, for a while, to promise something jubilant, but then again, it sure sounds like Sadier’s closing refrain claims “I’m afraid of pleasure.” Unless she’s actually saying “pasteurized milk.” Oh, Stereolab, how you keep me guessing!
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