With 1996’s Tigermilk, Belle & Sebastian mastermind Stuart Murdoch transformed a college music project into one of the most important albums of the ’90s. He’s only grown more ambitious in the intervening years. Now Murdoch has embarked on his biggest project to date in God Help The Girl, the soundtrack to a Murdoch-penned, as-yet-unfilmed musical on which he indulges his inner Phil Spector by penning songs for female vocalists known and unknown. As producer/songwriter/star-maker, Murdoch is a musical ventriloquist putting words into other singers’ mouths. Yet somehow it’s always Murdoch’s voice that emerges: literate, wry, witty, autumnal, a little bit twee, and a whole lot melancholy.
On “Funny Little Frog,” Brittany Stallings injects sex and soul into a perversely vital cover of a recent Belle & Sebastian single. With a coterie of guest vocalists and an orchestra at his disposal, Murdoch expands on his group’s already-massive sonic palette with soaring strings, French New Wave atmosphere, and girl-group flourishes. Murdoch has always been a peerless chronicler of the tricky emotional landscape of adolescence, so it’s poetically fitting that Murdoch has an actual adolescent (Asya of teen sensation Smoosh) coltishly croon “I Just Want Your Jeans.” Murdoch’s primary interpreter here is Catherine Ireton, whose cheeky, vampish delivery sometimes puts air quotes around Murdoch’s already irony-rich lyrics. But Ireton’s vocals grow more appealing with each listen, as does the album. Murdoch has created such a lush, cinematic world here that turning Girl into a movie almost feels redundant.