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Stereolab were always big believers in Mary Poppins’ advice that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” In existence for nearly two decades before announcing their hiatus in 2009, Stereolab was one of the most political bands around; however, they never endured the chorus of, “Oh, just shut up” that other openly political bands like Rage Against the Machine or even The Clash often were greeted with by apolitical audiences who just wanted to rock. That’s largely due to the fact that Stereolab swaddled their often radically left-leaning views in a catchy mix of pure pop hooks, Krautrock drones, acrobatic vocal harmonies, yé-yé giddiness and lounge music kookiness. The fact that some of their most politically charged lyrics were often delivered in French probably didn’t hurt, either.
Stereolab often disguised volcanically angry political tirades with innocuous titles like “Jenny Ondioline,” but vocalist Laetitia Sadier makes the political angle just a little more obvious on “There Is a Price to Pay for Freedom (and It Isn’t Security),” a track from her new second solo album, Silencio. Merely reading the title is like attending a protest march, as Sadier takes aim at mentality behind legislation like the Patriot Act, which argues that strong national security requires the sacrifice of some basic civil rights. Sadier’s not so sure she buys into that notion.
However, if Sadier is willing to trade Stereolab’s sometimes oblique approach to politics for a more upfront angle, she’s not giving up the other half of the band’s formula just yet. She wraps her soapbox speech in a sumptuous bit of music, all peaks and swells and spaghetti-western guitars – it sounds like the first cousin of John Barry & Nancy Sinatra’s theme song for You Only Live Twice. Sadier’s Gallic-accented voice remains one of the more beguiling in pop music, and it helps some of her more ungainly phrasing sound more charming than strident.
“There Is a Price to Pay for Freedom…” proves that in politics, the medium is as important as the message. On paper, the song’s lyrics would read like a pamphlet handed out at a political rally. In it’s finished form, it sounds like Brigitte Bardot attempting to unionize sexy French maids. As political discourse, it’s infinitely preferable to watching the endless line of talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC.