- Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night
from Another Planet
have always been in their own little world, seemingly more
interested in capturing their shagadelic analog fantasies
on record than connecting to their audience. And this time,
the rather unwieldy album title may be enough to scare away
the uninitiated. But actually, Cobra and Phases is
probably Stereolab's most accessible disc to date. A complete
lyric sheet is enclosed, many of the songs are actually in
English, and there's no 18 minute 'epic' present. Maybe they've
finally learned that people notice things like track length
when CDs, not 8-tracks, are the medium of choice.
everything is relative of course - Stereolab are never going
to be mistaken for Matchbox 20. And "Fuses," the bizarre,
free-form Ornette Coleman-meets-XTC jam that opens the album
drives home that point and dispels the notion that this group
may ever be accused of 'selling out.' What's changed is that
Stereolab have found that to be a little more concise isn't
necessarily a bad thing. In fact, they could really write
some excellent pure pop if they wanted to. They almost do,
but it's always at least one eccentric twist away from normality;
the twist could be an unconventional time signature such as
the 7/4 rhythm of "Free Design." Or it could be a clumsy set
of lyrics like "For the past 200 years the wine drunk and
the freedom proclaimed are dubious and laughable." Or it could
merely be the fact that a song that otherwise would be a Beach
Boy-ish guilty pleasure ("Spiracles") or an instantly-relateable
torch-angst anthem ("Velvet Water") happens to be in French.
standouts on "Cobra and Phases" are the "Infinity Girl," which
boasts a beautiful, shimmering melody, "Puncture in the Radar
Permutation," which kind of sounds like "Bennie and the Jets"
if you have a wild imagination, and the ultra-catchy album-closer,
"Come and Play in the Milky Night," which somehow manages
to rock out like crazy without much of a guitar around, not
an easy thing to do. And of course, no Stereolab disc would
be complete without one journey so far into the unknown that
the rest of the album sounds like… Matchbox 20 in comparison.
This time, it's "Blue Milk," which not only is in French,
but ventures off into a minimalist drone that achieves what
Stereolab is probably out to achieve, the certainty that these
five musicians must truly be from another planet.
is one of those groups you either love or hate, there's not
much in between. I happen to love them, and this disc doesn't
change that in the slightest, but 1996's Emperor Tomato
Ketchup still stands as their crowning achievement. There's
just a little too much syrup on this one, not enough grit.
And enough with the French already.
and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night
out of 5.0