album review for the skinny
God Help The Girl is a new project from Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch, a proposed musical film whose soundtrack features guest vocals from The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, Asya from American teen group Smoosh, and a clutch of debutante female vocalists including ex-Belle & Seb artwork model Catherine Ireton. To be frank, there's potentially a lot of scope for a Belle & Seb-related musical to be objectionable, especially if you're sensible enough to dislike musicals generally. But God Help The Girl avoids being too cloying, even if it doesn't particularly add much to the Belle & Seb canon.
Ireton's character is an imaginative and idealistic young girl who prefers prayers to parties. "There is no way I'm looking for a boyfriend," she sings on the title track, after revealing that "the bible's my tool" in opening track Act of the Apostle, a song borrowed from Belle & Seb's latest album The Life Pursuit. She's "a literate girl" who makes "daisy chains from phrase, verse and punctuation", buys The Independent to look smart although she clearly actually is, and regularly has to fend off interested boys because they don't meet her impossible standards. In other words, she's Murdoch's favourite kind of girl to invent, and her character is painted vividly here. But when Murdoch himself takes lead vocals, or Hannon or Asya, these characters aren't so clearly drawn; also, it's hard to divine a clear storyline from beginning to end. Presumably the film will help here, if it's ever made, meaning God Help The Girl can only currently be taken as a stand-alone album.
On that basis, God Help The Girl is for Belle & Seb anoraks only. The carefully located arrangements verge on sterility at times, and Ireton's tone of voice is exposed as bland by Asya's toothy, minty vocals on I Just Want Your Jeans. The standout is probably Musician, Please Take Heed, thanks to its melodramatic strings, straight out of a Phil Spector-produced girl group; and backing vocals from a similar heritage give Hannon's Perfection As A Hipster some flavour. But it's hard to get excited about much of God Help The Girl, which suffers from professing to have a theme but being too coy to reveal it.