Stereolab -Emperor Tomato Ketchup: Round 92 – Steve’s Selection


I was especially p*ssed off on 24th June when the EU referendum result was announced. There, I’ve said it. So the result for Brexit has influenced my choice this week. I wanted an antidote to this result. To celebrate all that is European. For me Europe represents a big melting pot of culture that crosses borders, breaks down barriers and this album does this in spades. Lætitia Sadier, Stereolab’s French born (UK living) lead singer mostly sings in her native tongue, in a style that sounds indifferent (yeah, f*ck you Farage), hypnotic and although my language skills are a little rustique these days – je comprends en peu. I originally wrote ‘je comprends en petit peux’ which roughly translates ‘I understand in small can’, which was odd because the first track of this album is an out-and-out tribute to Can! Shifting in tempo and all soggily and beautifully ‘beepy’, with a Hammond organ overlaid, the opening track ‘Metronomic Underground’ sets the tone for this album’s wonderful blend of europop, electronica and Krautrock. Most of the tracks on this album sound like they could carry on improvising into the night, just like Can were fond of doing during their legendary sessions.

Sadier’s vocal throughout this album is flat, but intentionally so, as it adds metronomy in itself. Repeating phrases, for example “Les pierres, les abres, les murs racontent…” (‘the stones, the tress, the walls tell’) on ‘Cybele’s Reverie’ evokes Sartre (pseud’s corner for me) and his hopelessness in amongst inanimate objects in his existential nightmare ‘Nausea’. There are nods in the direction of the punk band X-ray Spex (‘Germ Free Adolescents’ is lined up for DRC) and the saxophone on ‘Percolator’. The lyrics to ‘Les Yper-Sound’ seems especially prescient given Brexit in all its narrative for pitching camps against each other

“You go in that team
I go on this team
Divide everything
A flag or a number

Make ’em opposites
So there’s a reason
Okay, now we can fight”

‘Spark Plug’ explores the ills of society and its ability to heal (‘There is no sense in being interested in an ill person. Or unwell a society if one cannot believe their readiness and the capacity for proper recovery’). I’m feeling better already about societé! The album is, despite the flat vocals, very uplifting. It makes you feel like part of a happening, an underground avant garde show, like you are in the experience, pushing the boundaries.

The title track ‘Emporer Tomato Ketchup’ resumes the metronomic, and Can-like beats of the opener. Here the tempo is quicker though, and the interchanging vocal melodies of Sadier are accompanied by Mary Hansen (who sadly died in London in 2002 in a bike accident), making a delightful and blistering Krautrock belter of a tune. All forlorn and introspective, a weep for ‘the sought after union bought us together’ on ‘Monstre Sacre’ takes an altogether different tone. These are the highs and lows of life in full, born out in glorious euro-technicolour.

I can’t help but feel that this “proud to be British” bullsh*t would not have come to the fore if we were more honest about our influences, perhaps more open to other European cultures and the way they have shaped us as a nation. On ‘Motoroller Scalatron’ Sadier sings “What’s society built on? It’s built on, built on bluff. Built on bluff, built on trust”. Come on people. Feeling British means nothing. Feeling part of society has far more to tie us together. Or does it? Is it more simple and perhaps therefore fragile than that? Sadier appears to question this.

Looking back, Sadier reflects “Discovery of fire, America. The invention of the wheel, steel work and democracy. Philosophy, the Soviets and other events in history of humanity. Happened at a certain given moment in time” over strings and a variety of retro electronic jiggery-pokery. There’s no going back on history, only forwards. Again, flatly sung, matter of fact, but backed with glorious electronica. The final track ‘Anonymous Collective’ focusses on the unseen things that hold us together….”You and me are molded by things. Well beyond our acknowledgment”. Maybe that’s it. Don’t focus on the differences (f*ck you again Farage), let’s hold together and to the things that bind us, the things unseen. To Europe! Vive les similarities.

Tom listened: A while ago now Rob mentioned that he was keen to do a podcast/radio type thing and one of the features he was hoping to instigate (Rob is an ideas man!) would be a slot where we would listen to an album by an artist we had previously overlooked, generally the bigger the artist, the better (big in terms of influence as opposed to sales, I suppose). When he mooted this to me I drew a blank. Which, in retrospect, was ludicrous! There were hundreds of missing pieces in my musical jigsaw puzzle but I just couldn’t come up with any when put on the spot.

Well, Record Club has been the equivalent of a rummage down the back of the sofa and, as a result, many gaps have been plugged. The Stereolab piece now being in place, my listening life feels a little more complete. Of course, I have heard them many times on the radio over the years and Emperor Tomato Ketchup sounded more-or-less as I expected it would…but better; the grooves particularly towards the end of the record really locking me in. The closest thing to them in my record collection is Pram, another mid nineties indie outfit, but listening to this made me realise that it was the right band that won the accolades – on the basis of this album Stereolab simply had the better tunes and grooves!



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