Release Date: Oct 12, 2010
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Pop
Belle and Sebastian have long since shed their image as a slight, press-averse, soft-spoken band. Those qualities still exist, in one or way another, though they have all been eclipsed for nearly a decade by a growing confidence and dynamism. This transformation seems quite natural, and in retrospect, necessary. The elusive Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant (2000) contained a handful of the group’s most memorable lyrics and melodies, however the album seemed to be the result of a familiar system in transition—musicians wanting to cut loose, yet uncertain of the next direction to take.
A decade ago, if you’d described Belle and Sebastian as “swaggering”, you’d have been laughed out of town, and rightly so. But since the turn of the century, things have changed for the Glaswegians. Firstly, in 2002, Isobel Campbell left the group and has since made a name for herself as both a solo artist and playing “Beauty” to Mark Lanegan’s “Beast“.
It's easy to think of Belle and Sebastian as the Stuart Murdoch show. He's their main singer, their frontman, the guy who wrote everything on their first two albums and almost all the good stuff they've done since then; when the band started incorporating other members' songs and voices, they made a couple of dodgy records. But last year's God Help the Girl project-- songs from what seems to be an entirely hypothetical movie musical-- put the lie to the "Belle and Sebastian are both Stuart!" theory: even though Murdoch wrote all of it (and members of Belle and Sebastian played on it), it came off as a misstep, stagier and more ungainly than anything the parent band had ever done, mostly because it felt like the work of a revue-with-backup rather than an ensemble.
The idea of Belle & Sebastian doing an album of love songs tantalizes; it's a subject the beloved Scottish indie band has tackled time and again with equal amounts of wit, woe, joy and cynicism. All of these feelings are present on their newest, which doesn't sound at all like a concept album and unmistakably like B&S. Chief songwriter Stuart Murdoch's recent God Help the Girl project featured an array of singers, and Write About Love follows a similar vein, exploring how subtleties in vocal performance affect a song's character.
It takes just under four minutes for Belle and Sebastian's eighth album to demand a place among the best of their career. The magic moment comes in opener I Didn't See It Coming; heralded by a juggernaut of a keyboard riff, Stuart Murdoch explodes from the shadows, pleading: "Make me dance, I want to surrender." It is a shiver-inducing testament to the ripening of Belle and Sebastian's confidence as a pop band. Come on Sister and I Want the World to Stop are bright and urgent, flaring for the choruses, the latter shot with furious blasts of trombone.
Pensive Scottish group Belle & Sebastian has dominated rock-crit conversations since its seminal 1996 sophomore disc If You’re Feeling Sinister. Fourteen years later, Stuart Murdoch & Co. are still working the same beat to the same pleasant results. Write About Love, their first proper album since 2006’s The Life Pursuit, is a clean, lovingly produced affair that takes its cues largely from fellow nonthreatening whisperers Simon & Garfunkel.
What's always differentiated Belle and Sebastian from legions of overly precious twee acts is the sheer emotional clarity with which Stuart Murdoch has written from a feminine perspective. He's a male artist who rivals the likes of Lou Reed, Morrissey, and Michael Stipe in his sensitivity to the conundrum of—to quote his advice to the protagonist of Tigermilk's "We Rule the School"—"You know the world is made for men/Not us. " Since the band's inception, he's crafted expository character sketches, nonjudgmental portraits of boys who overeat ("Lord Anthony"), girls with sexual guilt ("Judy and the Dream of Horses"), and has done so in a manner thoroughly devoid of cheap sentimentality.
At some edition or other of the Leeds Festival, I confidently told a friend that I felt Belle & Sebastian were a better band than The Beach Boys, something he reacted to with a mix of horror and pity. I can’t remember whether I actually believed what I was saying, but I do recall a little bit of my soul evaporating when B&S played their set later that day. Stewart Murdoch was feyly dicking around with some make up belonging to a girl in the audience, and the band bust out a set revolving around the cute, polished, oft-animal related novelty pop – ‘Funny Little Frog’, ‘I’m A Cuckoo’, ‘Step Into My Office Baby’ – of their latter years.
Review Summary: Belle and Sebastian pull a cannonball after a series of swan dives.It kind of figures that a band whose subtle songwriting and wit has propelled them to success would slip and stumble at the point where they’ve adopted the most bold album title since Prince’s Lovesexy. You see, Belle and Sebastian have been writing about love their entire career; good love, bad love, sadomasochistic love – they’ve run the gamut. Coming off two marvels of artistic reinvigoration, Dear Catastrophe Waitress and The Life Pursuit, the idea that this is where the topic needed a signpost could very well have been a cause for worry but who would’ve thought of that? The band were on a steep upward trend and nobody likes a pessimist.
Although it’s unlikely that my eyes and ears both deceive me, I could have sworn that Belle and Sebastian Write About Love came out a few years ago. Hell, the first few chords of “I Didn’t See It Coming” is reminiscent of “Another Sunny Day” off The Life Pursuit. While an unexpectedly funky breakdown shakes off the déjà vu halfway through the song, the track still feels too familiar for its own good.
Stalwart practitioners of indie's most delicate subgenre, Belle and Sebastian finally traded sepia for Technicolor and turned up the volume on their last album, 2006's The Life Pursuit. Exploring brassy Northern soul, glam rock, and Motown with surprisingly credible abandon, Stuart Murdoch's troupe sounded full-blooded and fun like never before. All that extroversion must have been exhausting for the typically demure Scots, because their follow-up has taken a good while to gestate and, four years later, they still sound a bit hungover.
Listen as Belle & Sebastian once again direct you to your happy place. For more than ten years, they’ve been known for their sage lyricism, instrumental finesse and being the reincarnation of the Smiths, and its fairly easy to see why the latter comparison is so often made. Like their ’80s predecessors, B & S have released possibly some of the most dignified and gentlemanly music out there.
Arriving belatedly and slothfully after 2006’s The Life Pursuit, critiquing clichés have so far claimed that this new Belle & Sebastian LP is somewhat of a ‘rejuvenated’ or ‘re-energised’ affair. But that’s not really the case. Given that The Life Pursuit and its own 2002 prequel, Dear Catastrophe Waitress, were truer rebirths after the creative-stalling of 2000’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant album and 2002’s Storytelling soundtrack, the freshly-cut Write About Love is far less revelatory or career-redefining in comparison.
Album eight from the acclaimed Scots is a fine addition to their impressive catalogue. Ian Wade 2010 People usually have an opinion – good or bad – about Belle and Sebastian. Words such as twee often turn up in critiques of the band, but to take that as gospel is to miss the point. Over the past decade and a half, the many-tentacled Glasgow outfit, operating under the guidance of founder and chief songwriter Stuart Murdoch, have gradually become something of a treasure.