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Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch goes on songwriting gender bender for God Help The Girl project

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God Help The Girl God Help The Girl (Matador)

So you're Stuart Murdoch, successful songwriter, vocalist and leader of Scottish indie darlings Belle and Sebastian. Your work with the group has made it one of the best-loved bands of the last decade-plus while your songwriting has developed from almost painfully twee and simplistic indie folk-pop to charmingly over-reaching Burt Bacharach-esque pop suites. Where do you go from here? Svengali to a girl group? Well, why the hell not? It made a legend of Phil Spector before he became a convicted murderer...

Murdoch's God Help The Girl project was originally reported to be a musical film -- and it still might be -- but, for now, the official website bills it as a "story set to music" and just the music is being released. It's no rock opera complete with story arch, but the songs do hang together well thematically. They center around awkward adolescence -- much like a lot of Murdoch's work with B&S, several members of which perform on the album -- but presented here from a female perspective. Well, at least Murdoch's idea of a female perspective.

A series of auditions resulted in several women vocalists bringing Murdoch's lyrics to life, most notably Catherine Ireton who sings most of the leads with a lovely, lilting voice surrounded by lush female harmonies. Adolescent angst and its attendant sense of making one a perpetual outsider is both celebrated and decried throughout the disc, to great effect. At one point, the narrator laments her "social coffin," but later rejects a suitor's advance at a club before ruefully intoning "I think I'll have to dance with Cassie / Cause the dream boy never asked."

The album's best song "Come Monday Night," is a delightful tale of a couple finding solace in workday routine after a weekend that was less than what they hoped for.

Murdoch himself takes the lead on a couple of tracks to provide a male perspective as does The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon on the comical "Perfection as a Hipster," though the title is better than the song itself. Nothing against the song, mind you. It's a strong one, but that title deserved even better.

Musically, God Help The Girl is like Belle and Sebastian's career in jumbled microcosm. There are simple, stripped down acoustic guitar and piano driven numbers juxtaposed with more complex compositions featuring strings and horns. There are even a couple of recent B&S numbers -- "Act of the Apostle" and "Funny Little Frog" -- reworked for inclusion here.

Overall, God Help The Girl sounds pretty much like a Belle and Sebastian album would, had departed B&S singer Isobel Campbell taken most of the lead vocals and left a few to Murdoch, instead of the other way round.

The God Help The Girl CD is in stores today... I hope the film is half as good.

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