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God Help the Girl

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Album Review

While touring with Belle & Sebastian the past few years, Stuart Murdoch began coming up with songs he thought of as a separate project. Soon, they became sort of a story revolving around the travails of a girl growing up in Scotland who ends up being hospitalized due to what seems like a mental breakdown. Realizing that the songs probably needed to be sung by a female vocalist, Murdoch held a series of auditions. Eventually, he found a few singers he felt were suitable, and after hiring the guys from B&S as a backing band, they began putting the music on tape. The result was released under the name God Help the Girl, but it could have easily come out under the Belle & Sebastian brand and nobody would have been too surprised. The album sounds exactly like a B&S album, only mostly sung by female vocalists. Therein lies a big problem with the record. While the vocalists Murdoch found are all fine (especially Catherine Ireton, who sings most of the leads) you can't help but wish he had taken the vocals himself. Something about his words makes them sound much better when he sings them. Case in point, the neo-soul take on The Life Pursuit's "Funny Little Frog." In Murdoch's hands, the song is a touching, oddly poignant love song, here Brittany Stallings irons out all the kinks and turns it into a competent Winehouse-lite ballad. When Stuart does take the vocals himself, as on "Pretty Eve in the Tub" or "Hiding Neath My Umbrella," the record feels right. The rest of the time it sounds a little forced, and in a few cases when the singer is all wrong for the song (the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon's overly campy delivery on "Perfection as a Hipster" or Asya from Smoosh's overly dramatic lead on "I Just Want Your Jeans"), the record falls flat.

The other big problem with God Help the Girl is the very fact that most of the songs sound exactly like Belle & Sebastian. Put "I'll Have to Dance with Cassie," "Musician, Please Take Heed," "Come Monday Night," and "A Down and Dusky Blonde" on a B&S record with Stuart's vocals and they would fit right in. That in itself isn't a real problem; the fact that too many of them feel like less than thrilling B&S songs is. The songs that work the best are those with above-average vocal performances ("Come Monday Night," the title track) and those that try something slightly unique, like "Hiding Neath My Umbrella," a lovely piano ballad sung by Murdoch and Ireton that sounds like something Burt Bacharach might have composed for a French film in the mid-'60s, or "If You Could Speak," whose simple acoustic guitar backing suits the jaunty tune and sweet harmonizing perfectly. Surely Murdoch was aiming for something more than Belle sung by belles, it's too bad he doesn't seem to have the musical range to achieve it. It might have helped to hire some outside musicians, but it might just be that he can only write one kind of song, and to expect more isn't fair or realistic. God Help the Girl should probably just be viewed as a flawed work or a semi-successful adventure by a solo artist who needs his band to be truly great. Or maybe he just should have sung all the songs himself and everything would have been fine. However you view it, unless you are a Belle & Sebastian fanatic, you could probably give God Help the Girl a pass. You won't be missing much.

Customer Reviews

Hey now...

I actually like this a lot more than most of B&S's stuff. Some of the songs, I agree, were perhaps not sung by the right voices but overall I would say this is a successful side-venture for Stuart. I particularily love "Perfection as a Hipster" and "Come Monday Night".


Formed: Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

Essentially Belle & Sebastian leader Stuart Murdoch, the rest of B&S, and a phalanx of female muse-singers (but mostly obscure Irish vocalist Catherine Ireton), God Help the Girl is one of the odder "side projects" (if it can even be described as such). Formed in 2008 to create music for Murdoch's similarly titled film-in-progress, God Help the Girl takes the basic obtuse storytelling and twee-plus B&S sound and tweaks it into the past, injecting elements of '60s girl groups, Left Banke-esque Baroque...
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God Help the Girl, God Help the Girl
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