Ping Pong

Song Review by

The centerpiece track on 1994's Mars Audiac Quintet, "Ping Pong" is one of the best songs in Stereolab's oeuvre, as well as one of the most deliberately ironic. Breaking from their image as Krautrock-obsessed drone merchants, "Ping Pong" features a bossa nova beat, a lilting synthesizer riff, and a way-cool Duane Eddy-inspired twang guitar part by Sean O'Hagan, along with layered vocals and overdubbed wordless harmonies that make Laetitia Sadier and Mary Hansen sound like the Ray Conniff Singers. All of this is in service to the most pointedly political lyric in the band's career, a plainspoken explanation of one of the central tenets of Marxian economic analysis: prosperity leads to recession, and recessions are usually ended by the increased government spending that comes with a declared or undeclared war, which buoys the entire economy, starting the cycle all over again. Sadier's lyrics avoid didacticism and stridency in favor of a mordant sense of humor and deadpan, dispassionate analysis. Lyrically, the song is of a piece with early Gang of Four diatribes like "It's Her Factory," but the ultra-catchy tune makes it more accessible, and therefore more subversive. It worked: This was the first Stereolab song to enjoy widespread MTV and alternative radio airplay.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Mars Audiac Quintet 1994 Elektra 3:02
Ping Pong [EP] 1994 UHF 3:02
No Image 2000 WEA International 3:02
Oscillons from the Anti-Sun [W/DVD] 2005 Too Pure 3:03
Serene Velocity: A Stereolab Anthology 2006 Rhino / Elektra 3:02
The Studio Album Collection 1992-2004 2015 Elektra / Rhino