wears the trousers magazine

god help the girl: god help the girl (2009)
July 3, 2009, 12:35 pm
Filed under: album, mp3, review, video | Tags: , , , ,


God Help The Girl
God Help The Girl •••½

Musicals have had something of a rough ride of late, tainted by populist Saturday night television and by people who mistakenly believe that going up the West End to see the latest Lloyd-Webber is high culture. So why would Stuart Murdoch, founder of one of the UK’s most innovative, leftfield bands, even bother with such potential a cheesefest? As the legend goes, the concept of God Help The Girl, an extravagant multimedia offering with a story arc told through film and music, preoccupied the Belle & Sebastian man for some time before he acted upon it, placing an advertisement for his girl-group idea that could also read as a Wears The Trousers battle cry – ‘Girl Singer Needed’. Like a twee indie-pop version of ‘X Factor’, Murdoch’s search unearthed the hitherto unheralded talents of Irish singer Catherine Ireton and several other gamine-like waifs with voices to match their beauty (hopefuls were of course required to include a photo).

Murdoch has previously helped nurture both Isobel Campbell and Monica Queen, but this latest project provides a grander platform for the female voice to flourish. Featuring a dozen new songs and two raids on the Belle & Sebastian back catalogue, God Help The Girl is both gorgeous and frustrating. The 1950s vibe on ‘Act Of The Apostle’ oozes Ireton into the spotlight but it makes for a somewhat misleading start. A delicious 1960s mood sweeps in with the orchestral flourishes of the title track with Ireton proclaiming, “You have been warned / I’m going to be contrary!” – and she’s right. Murdoch tries to dominate ‘Pretty Eve In The Bathtub’ but its overstated strings quickly grate and reduce his vocal to a fey muddle. Recent single ‘Come Monday Night’ is similarly string-lavished but Ireton’s impressive vocal overcomes an occasionally overbearing arrangement and gives it greater longevity. It’s a shame the cover of ‘Funny Little Frog’ really doesn’t work. The punch of the original Belle & Sebastian song is stifled and replaced with yet more soaring strings and a soulful but pedestrian delivery from Washington, Olympia’s Brittany Stallings that renders it more R&B than B&S.

Yet there’s still plenty of magic in God Help The Girl. ‘Musicians, Please Take Heed’ takes its lead from the sweeping continental pop of Gainsbourg and Brel with four sublime minutes that sees Ireton’s vocal complemented beautifully by intelligent orchestration and memorable lyrics – “I’ve got a number of a girl I know / who gets hallucinogens from a pair of hooligans.” Ex-Divine Comedy man Neil Hannon joins Ireton for ‘Perfection As A Hipster’, a song with so much retro swing it could have fallen off the soundtrack to ‘Les Bicyclettes Des Belsize’. The prevailing mood may be a throwback to the ’60s but closer inspection suggests God Help The Girl is really rooted in the early ’80s. Murdoch already resurrected The Maisonettes for 2000’s Belle & Sebastian single ‘Legal Man’, and similar harmonies fuse this album. Brief instrumental interludes ‘The Music Room Window’ and ‘A United Theory’ even recall the chic bedsit jazz of Alison Statton’s work with Weekend and Simon Booth’s spin-off Working Week. Elsewhere, ‘Hiding Neath My Umbrella’ is a pretty piano-led Murdoch/Ireton duet, while Smoosh singer Asya graces the stripped-down country air on ‘I Just Want Your Jeans’.

God Help The Girl is obviously a labour of love for Murdoch but a subtler touch could have made this soundtrack an outstanding trip rather than just a pleasant summer outing. All shortcomings aside, Murdoch deserves much praise for this project, and frankly we should be grateful. Ben Elton’s mid-life crisis saw him mythologising about Queen and making an apparent political volte-face. Murdoch’s obsession is pretty women with pretty voices. Catherine Ireton and all the women involved provide all the divine intervention required.

Don Blandford
UK release date: 22/06/09; www.myspace.com/pleasegodhelpthegirl


FREE MP3: God Help The Girl, ‘Funny Little Frog’


‘Come Monday Night’

God Help The Girl – an introduction


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