Published Sep 12, 2019Emperor Tomato Ketchup came out in the heyday of postmodern pop — the same year that Beck released his genre-mashing masterpiece Odelay and DJ Shadow released his sample-based beat collage Endtroducing… Into the fray waded Stereolab, bringing a dizzying mix of retro-pop classicism, modern electronic experimentation and bilingual socialist manifestos.
The album bridged the gap between the fuzzed out Krautrock of the band's early period and the synth-squiggled psychedelia that followed. From the hip-hop strut of opener "Metronomic Underground" to the fidgety exotica of "Percolator" to the anti-capitalist nursery rhymes of "Motoroller Scalatron," Emperor Tomato Ketchup is filled with peculiar juxtapositions and an unpredictable patchwork of influences. These blend together seamlessly with the jazzy input of producer John McEntire (of the Sea & Cake). Even 23 years later, it still sounds bold and futuristic.
For this reissue, Stereolab have lifted the lid on some bonus material from the album sessions. Rarity "Freestyle Dumpling" combines circus synths, restless syncopations and mantra-like pop refrains, and the eight-minute "Old Lungs" is full of pleasantly drifting rhythms and wonky, weirdo horn riffs.
The other extra tracks aren't quite as necessary: the "Original Mix" versions don't shine any new light on the songs, while the stripped-down demos are more interesting academically than they are musically. Knowing what the final album sounds like, it's surprising to hear the songs as minute-long, percussion-free sketches, although they're clearly for diehards rather than newcomers.
Sure, the extra tracks don't add all that much to the experience, but when are a classic record's bonus tracks ever essential? The original album was already a masterpiece that achieved the ultimate goal of any great postmodern pop: reassembling pieces of the past into something subversive and new. (Warp)