Review: Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup/Dots And Loops/ Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night
In 2019, when Stereolab have returned from a decade-long hiatus to play live shows to rapt fans, it’s easy to assume the band were always feted alt-rock heroes. In truth, they took a while to establish themselves in a 1990s world when the idea of mixing up French pop, easy listening, the Velvets, woozy synths and the motorik beat of Neu! was something that set the band apart from their contemporaries.
Nonetheless, by 1996, when Emperor Tomato Ketchup was released, the world had begun to catch up and catch on: an opportune moment to release, according to Pitchfork, the 51st-greatest album of the decade. To which one response might be, name 50 better albums released in the 1990s, because Stereolab’s fourth is arguably the first when the band so convincingly combined pop – listen to the melody on lush single Cybele’s Reverie – and avant-garde instincts.
While it’s a less immediate album, Dots And Loops (1997) kept up the winning streak. Its surface lightness is deceptive, the sound of a band reaching for a kind of post-rock take on Aja-era Steely Dan’s sophistication – and reaching that goal. In contrast, Cobra And Phases Group Play Voltage In The Milky Night seems too studied, at moments putting you in mind of a band gagging on their own record collections. As with the previous remastered Stereolab reissues, there’s nothing to fault here in terms of attention to detail, with newly released demo material often especially fascinating in showing how songs developed over time. Fans have already snaffled up limited editions on clear vinyl as pre-orders.