Album Review: God Help the Girl

by Marie Carney on June 9, 2009

God Help the Girl - A new musical?

God Help the Girl - A new musical?

God Help the Girl is supposed to be the soundtrack for a musical that has yet to be scripted and filmed.  It is the brainchild of Stuart Murdoch from Belle & Sebastian.  Murdoch said the project was born from material he couldn’t use for for Belle & Sebastian because the songs should be sung by three female characters.   The outcome?  A Belle & Sebastian record with female vocals and a light sprinkling of musical theater.

I first discovered God Help the Girl because of a message from a friend.  “Stuart Murdoch is having an open call for singers!  You should try out.”  Upon further investigation I discovered it was true; if you logged into imeem.com you could download instrumental versions of two songs: a Belle & Sebastian favourite “Funny Little Frog” and a new song called “The Psychiatrist is In.”  The instructions were to choose one and post it up on an imeem message board.  I promptly downloaded the songs and started calling around to find someone to help me record them.  In the end my friend Cynthia and I, with the help of her husband Russell, spent a fun weekend recording and submitting the songs.  Then the obsession really began.  I listened to everyone’s entry and made lists of favourites.  Weeks later three finalists for each song were chosen to submit a second song (Cynthia and I did not make the cut; we were robbed!) and when the winners were announced I at least took solace in the fact that one of the winners,Brittany Stallings, had been my favourite singer.

I was excited to hear the final product after so much time and obsession, but I was bound to be overly critical of the singing.

Then, after all that time, energy and obsession, it turns out the contest winners are the smallest presence on the record.  Brittany Stallings’ fabulous version of “Funny Little Frog” did make the final cut (and is the first single), but the other contest winner, Dina Bankole, only makes a cameo on the ensemble track “A Down and Dusky Blonde.”  The majority of the vocals are sung by Catherine Ireton, who has a lovely old-timey, rich voice (her interpretation of “Act of the Apostle” is especially strong).  Male lead vocals are taken by Stuart Murdoch himself and Neil Hannon (of The Divine Comedy) on “Perfection as a Hipster” a charming yet slightly disturbing song.  The main complaint I have is the choice to give the lead vocals on the song “I Just Want Your Jeans” to Asya from the band Smoosh.  Her breathy, lackluster delivery does not give justice to the beautiful melody.  The song would have been better sung by Dina Bankole, whose rich deep tone could have added some depth to the song.

To be honest, I hated the album at first listen (other than “Funny Little Frog’s” glorious vocal of course!), but as most of Stuart Murdoch’s compositions do, the music slowly seeped into my soul, taking roost in my brain until it became my favourite album of the year so far.  It is full of soaring vocals and strings and Stuart Murdoch’s intricate melodies.  But this is definitely NOT a musical soundtrack.  There is no big ensemble number; the most voices in one song are the four in “Down and Dusky Blonde,” there are no recurring musical themes and there is no discernible narrative.  It is a quality Belle & Sebastian/Stuart Murdoch album though.

My main advice with this album is to give it a soft start and a little time.   To this day, I credit my love of Belle & Sebastian to listening to it properly.  It is music to grow into.  Put it on in the background while you read.  Listen to it while you fall asleep.  Let the melodies seep into your brain.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  In a week you won’t believe that there was a time you didn’t like it.

And please enjoy the video for “Funny Little Frog” featuring the imeem contest winners:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Vi July 8, 2009 at 1:38 pm

It’s thanks to this project that I now know all the lyrics to Funny Little Frog.

Will this film ever get made? Either way, as long as Stuart keep writting music, I’m good.

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Tony July 30, 2009 at 8:53 am

I really like the album, I discovered it on the MTV2 Subterranean show (recommended watching btw). I keep listening to it over and over again.

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