Review of God Help The Girl's self-titled album released through Rough Trade.
I guess it was inevitable that at least one member of Belle And Sebastian would eventually branch out towards the world of screenplay. To date, we've already had the likes of Isabel Campbell turn towards Americana and Stuart David embrace avant-garde electronica, so for Stuart Murdoch the idea of creating his own musical is perhaps not as ludicrous as it first seems. The concept for 'God Help The Girl' initially came to fruition some five years ago whilst touring 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress', and its maybe a tad ironic now that two of the songs that appeared on Belle And Sebastian's follow-up record 'The Life Pursuit' are included here, albeit in an entirely revamped state to their original compositions. What is more notable is the painstaking lengths Murdoch has gone to in recruiting suitable musicians and vocalists for this (as yet) still unfinished project; orchestras, session musicians, X Factor-style auditioned singers and of course members of Belle And Sebastian have come and gone during the two-year recording process for 'God Help The Girl', the finished results and eventual fourteen tracks muted to feature heavily in the celluloid version comprising this virtual soundtrack to Murdoch's ambitious vision.
The storyline to 'God Help The Girl' runs like a narrative to the formation of a sixties style girl group only set in the present; imagine if Girls Aloud had been created around the notion of The Ronettes rather than a post-millennium update on the Spice Girls and you're somewhere close. Choosing which vocalists would contribute parts to the project seems to have been a laborious process in itself, with Murdoch opting for novice performers like Catherine Ireton - initially spotted as a cover star on the front sleeve of Belle And Sebastian's 'The White Collar Boy' - as leading lady "Eve", while auditionees Brittany Stallings and Dino Bankole were recruited via social networking site iMeem respectively. Add to that the dulcet tones of The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, Smoosh vocalist Asya and session chanteuses Celia Garcia and Anna Miles, not to mention Murdoch making the odd vocal contribution himself, and you've got a fairly eclectic range of voices, even if musically, not a lot really changes from song to song.
And that really is the main problem with 'God Help The Girl'. Taken away from its main context - the film won't be ready until at least 2010 according to Murdoch - this record sounds like a collection of Belle And Sebastian outtakes, at best conjured up from the morsels left over from the 'Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant' and aforementioned 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' sessions, neither of which it has to be said rank as particular highpoints of B&S' distinguished career. Additionally, there's also a sense of "Am I missing something?" here, particularly on the languorous reworkings of 'Act Of The Apostle' and 'Funny Little Frog', which sound pointless and unnecessary even if Murdoch's deliberation that this is how he intended them to sound in the first place makes a hollow defence for justification.
Having said all that, even a sub-standard Belle And Sebastian record still knocks spots off most of the competition, while in Irish songstress Ireton, Murdoch has unearthed something of a rough diamond. Her performances, particularly on the title track and penultimate 'I'll Have To Dance With Cassie', add a touch of sophistication to the whole package, while Hannon's charmingly wry breeze through 'Perfection As A Hipster' serves as a timely reminder to one of the most underrated vocalists in pop over the past decade-and-a-half.
Elsewhere though, there's little to get THAT excited about. Maybe all will become clearer once the film nears completion, but until then, 'God Help The Girl' is something of an ill-fitting anomaly that serves more purpose as a vocal showcase than overall songwriting prowess. For B&S fans and completists only then.