Sunday, July 4, 2010

CD Review: GOD HELP THE GIRL - GOD HELP THE GIRL (Rough Trade / Matador)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The two nouns in the title of this project let you know exactly the fixations Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch is concerning himself with, and neither should come as a surprise to any fans. To more girl group swing and less indie pop earnestness, Murdoch tells the story of a troubled girl named Eve using the talents of different female singers (and The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon), the album acts as a soundtrack for an as yet incomplete screenplay of a film due to start production next year.

Opening with an edited and slowed version of Act of the Apostle the album features a pointless reworking of Funny Little Frog from Belle and Sebastian’s 2006 album The Life Pursuit as well as the cover star of that album’s other single White Collar Boy, Catherine Ireton, on 10 of the 14 songs. Other singers are winners of an internet-based audition, Asya from Seattle pop dynamos Smoosh and some Glasgow locals who responded to an ad for ‘girl singers for an autumnal recording project”.

God Help The Girl is a triumph of songwriting and storytelling. High points are Murdoch and Ireton’s Hiding Neath My Umbrella and Asya’s I Just Want Your Jeans; Murdoch is so at home with the plight of a troubled girl and the city’s vicissitudes, the friends she makes and men she meets. It’s hard to remain unmoved by lyrics like “I read a book a day like an apple / But I did not eat / And so the doctor came to me / He said a woman does not live / By the printed word / Forgive yourself and eat” (A Down And Dusky Blonde) despite the unconvincing delivery. The band serves the songs with admirable restraint, leaving a lot of room for Mick Cooke’s arrangements and it is a mystery, perhaps in spite the detail, as to where the film’s narrative will go.

At his best singing humble songs about characters he adores, Murdoch is someone listeners can easily feel they know intimately. Here we’re introduced to a quick succession of women voicing a character the story within the CD booklet goes a way to explaining, but who each have a different take. This resultant patchiness, a 45-piece orchestra and couple of throwaway instrumentals dilute what could be a wholly direct and affecting album. A version of Murdoch with just an acoustic guitar would make for fascinating listening since he has never had a problem singing from a girl’s perspective before. Despite it’s four-year genesis, there are too many apostles confusing the address.

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