Album Review: Late Developers by Belle and Sebastian
Very Good, Based on 5 Critics
Sputnikmusic - 82 Based on rating 4.1/5
I think a misconception about the late-period works of Belle and Sebastian has been gradually perpetrated by listeners, critics, even yours truly. After their incredible early period of lo-fi, character-driven indie folk, we say, the band slid into an amenable but safe sophisti-pop sound characterised by cleaner production, longer runtimes and a general feeling of stagnation. Seems fair at a glance, perhaps, but there's a lot you have to overlook to subscribe to this simplistic notion.
As a surprise shot in the arm to get the year off to a good start, Stuart Murdoch and co’s second album in 12 months is a very welcome New Year present As January is traditionally the most depressing of months – the post-Christmas buzz has worn off, nobody has any money and the back to work grind is in full effect – the odd surprise is very welcome. And they don’t come much more surprising than a second Belle and Sebastian album in less than 12 months. Last May, Stuart Murdoch’s band released their 11th studio album, A Bit Of Previous, recorded throughout lockdown in their home city of Glasgow.
Belle and Sebastian are full of surprises, aren't they? Surprise number one is that their twelfth album, Late Developers, comes only around seven months since the release of 2022's A Bit of Previous. Surprise number two, is that the opening track, "Juliet Naked," is very nearly a mid-tempo hard rock tune. The Thin Lizzy name-check in 2003's "I'm a Cuckoo" might have set an alarm bell or two ringing, but "Juliet Naked" and the second tune on the record "Give a Little Time" are pretty rockin' for Scotland's foremost purveyors of whimsy.
When was the last time a surprise album felt like a surprise? For an act like Belle and Sebastian, the group behind perfect '90s indie-pop records like If You're Feeling Sinister, there isn't a huge risk in dropping their latest album, Late Developers, with a week's notice. In the last decade or so, the Scottish band are firmly in their twilight years, releasing decent albums with low stakes and a handful of surprises. On Late Developers, bandleader Stuart Murdoch's engaging storytelling and familiar voice gives a needed sense of steadiness to the band's poppiest, weakest album in years.
After a quiet spell, it seems there's no stopping Belle and Sebastian. Last year's excellent 'A Bit Of Previous' saw a return to pop directness, a record fuelled by zest and the band's exquisite melodic touch. Quick-fire follow-up 'Late Developers' draws from the same well, and while it's certainly pleasing doesn't quite reach the heights of its forebear.