“God Help the Girl” is somewhat difficult to really put your finger on. Is it a Belle & Sebastian album, is it just Stuart Murdoch’s, or is it something completely different? The album’s charm is lacking, though Murdoch’s lyrics of sexual inadequacies has left his fans pining for new tracks and albums. The most terrible injury done by the album is most certainly Murdoch’s attempt at writing songs to be sung by others rather than him.
The primary female vocalist, Catherine Ireton, has a voice much like that of Zooey Deschanel, who teamed up with M. Ward to release “Volume One” in 2008 under the moniker She & Him.
The opening track is a bluesy version of Belle & Sebastian’s “Act of the Apostle, Pt. II.” The song was shortened slightly, as was the title. The original version, though the female vocals add a softness that Murdoch was unable to achieve under Belle & Sebastian, was better done than this bluesy version. Both are likable though.
At times, the album gets to be more like the soundtrack to a musical, rather than a film in the form of music – which is still an odd concept, considering a film is planned to accompany the album. The album should be advertised more aptly as the soundtrack to “God Help the Girl” rather than a film set to music.
The title track, “God Help the Girl,” would easily fit into a Belle & Sebastian album, which this is not. And it is rightly so. The album is not one that lends itself to Belle & Sebastian’s historical discography. Murdoch’s brainchild, though backed by Belle & Sebastian, is missing elements of the very band that it grew from.
If you can’t wait to hear the new version of “Funny Little Frog,” consider calming yourself, as the track loses most of what made it so enjoyable – namely, the way Murdoch pronounced “throat.” The vocalist, Brittany Stallings, does away with the quirky “thro-at” and glosses over many of the weighty lyrics, leaving the track rather unimportant compared to the original. Stallings sings the track with more soul, which is a pleasant change, but still leaves the listener shrugging.
Unfortunately, the vocalists sing a majority of the songs with a lack of sincerity and inadvertently leave the listener uninterested. The singers seem to be expecting Murdoch’s lyrics and story to do most of the heavy lifting.
Overall, the album seems to be pushing the narrative and development of characters rather than supporting the singers’ and band’s capabilities. If viewed in this way, the album is perfect. But, if this is so, why release the album so much sooner than the film? As much as Murdoch wants to associate the album with Belle & Sebastian, it’s probably best that it’s not.
Artist: God Help the Girl
Album: “God Help the Girl”
Released: June 23, 2009
Label: Matador Records
Rating: 6.5 / 10