Margerine Eclipse (Elektra)

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After nine studio albums, the Anglo-French unit Stereolab has become very comfortable in its sound, sinking into a beanbag chair of Laetitia Sadier's "ba-da-ba's," Farfisa organ drones, wonderfully serpentine bass lines, and krautrock-bossa nova-waltz rhythms.

One would think that Margerine Eclipse, the first album released since singer-keyboardist Mary Hansen's death in 2002, ought to reflect Stereolab's sadness over its loss. The new disc, it turns out, is business as usual. But we don't come to Stereolab for bold deviations into new territory. In a world bedeviled with awful change, we turn to Stereolab for its aura of avant-bubblegum exotica, as well as it socialist lyrics (seductively sung while the group cashes its checks from a major label). Stereolab has been riding the same Esquivel-Tortoise-Mutantes motorcycle since 1997's Dots and Loops; Margerine Eclipse further tunes up the bike's engine. Ultimately, though, the disc's as pretty and inconsequential as a trophy wife.

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