Inspiration can come in many forms, and for Stuart Murdoch, who is the lead singer and songwriter for indie pop band Belle and Sebastion, it spawned from a nice jog. He has stated that a whole album came to him along with the music, lyrics, and female voices. It was then that he put a search out to look for female singers and musicians to compose the music. Thus the “God Help the Girl” album was created. As they worked on the music, another idea resonated with him and that was to create a musical narrative.
Concept albums are nothing new but something about this one is interesting. The album contained an extra element along with the lyrics and behind the scenes photos. For the first couple of pages, there was a story with black and white drawings detailing the adventure of Eve who is the character that the singers emulate in the album. She is someone dealing with emotional issues as a result of becoming a young adult. It details her journey throughout college, a mental institution, making music, meeting people and then onward. All of the lyrics detail her progression of her mental state and how music affected her life.
The album has a quaint story that is further complimented by the 60’s era pop music style. It had a charm that many indie bands have and the whimsical nature of the Beatles era. I am not a music critic but there’s no denying the sultry and upbeat sound that classic pop emanates. This album is a throwback to that era while also mixing modern day dark themes of loneliness and lack of direction. The story and the songs discuss a confusing and frustrating transitional period that is only alleviated by music. Unlike the classic songs of that era, music is not the absolute solution and even by the end of the album there is still an uncertainty in regards to the protagonist’s future.
It should come as no surprise that Murdoch would then adapt his album into a musical film. The premise is the same but the plot changes significantly. Eve is still the protagonist and suffering from mental illness. In the movie, we are given a minute backstory for Eve and she starts out in the institution. She leaves in the beginning and meets up with some aspiring musicians named James and Cassie and together they work on making music.
One element that is definitely better implemented in the movie is the tone. The music and story of the album depicted a dark quaintness that is unfortunately limited through the black and white drawings. The film juggles both the dark and lighter elements by having musical numbers that conveyed both themes. The song number “I’ll Have to Dance with Cassie” is excellently choreographed with whimsical and pleasing lyrics. It takes place in a rest home with Eve singing lead and everyone dancing. Another number “Musician, Please Take Heed” is about the downward spiral of the main protagonist. Eve meets up with a female manifestation of her problems who then takes her out on a night of debauchery which then ends with negative ramifications.
While these two songs were excellent examples of the range of tone, it should be noted that every musical number is excellent. All of them are well-crafted music videos and could be viewed on their own.
God Help the Girl is Stuart Murdoch’ first film and it is obvious from its origins that it was done as a labor of love. The movie was even shot on film (at the behest of his producers) which added to its already prevalent nostalgic and crisp appearance. He was lucky enough to get seasoned and charming actors to fill the roles and they were able to sing as well. In the end, Murdoch accomplished what many artists dream of and that is taking a passion project and creating a genuinely brilliant product.