To say Belle and Sebastian are much loved will come as something of an understatement to their legion of loyal fans, whose numbers have grown steadily even through the band’s recent four year hiatus.
Part of their appeal has been the inoffensive, likable music mixed with knowing lyrics; sharp and witty at times, painfully melancholy at others. Above all, they have been always been credible and have produced consistently good albums, from their 1990s fey beginnings to the pop sensibility of recent years.
It’s been a long wait for such adoring fans, but the band are now firmly back, touring and with a sparkly new album, Write About Love, a concept album of sorts about, well, love.
So where does Write About Love sit in its catalogue? For me its actually one of their best yet. While some tracks instantly grab the attention such as the title track and ‘ I Want The World To Stop’, others simmer away nicely to garner affection over time, such as ‘Calculating Bimbo’.
Unsurprisingly the closest similarity is with their most recent album 2006’s Life Pursuit, especially in production and its pop-savvy edge with producer Tony Hoffer returning to work with the band. The polished touch he gave them on Life Pursuit remains, but there are similarities with earlier work as well. Its not all pop hit after hit.
Some like the slower ‘Calculating Bimbo’ hark back to earlier albums. ‘I Want The World To Stop’ may have blaring horns and strings but it still has the sweetness of melody that many of the tracks on one ‘Boy With The Arab Strap’ displayed.
And the religious focused ‘Ghost of Rockschool’ is certainly reminiscent of much of If You’re Feeling Sinister. Although as frontman Stuart Murdoch tells NPR in a recent interview it comes from a different perspective. While previously he was “mopping” up his feelings of being a “punk hipster” who happened to attend church, he is now more than comfortable with his faith.
“I’ve seen God in the sun, I’ve seen God in the street / God before bed and the promise of sleep,” he sings. He is quick to tell NPR though that “I’m not a fan of Christian rock, and I hope that doesn’t sound too much like a mawkish Christian rock song.”
Some of the publicity of the album has focused on the guest appearance of Norah Jones who duets with Murdoch on the wonderfully titled ‘Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John’. While I’m not a huge fan of Jones’ more mainstream music, her voice does work well on this love song. Having said that its probably my least favourite track, not because of Jones, it’s just a little dreary among the sweet melodies and pop-driven nature of much of the rest of the album.
As if to hammer this point home the next tracks, the title track and ‘I’m Not Living In The Real World,’ are as upbeat as upbeat can be. On the latter Murdoch hands frontman duties to guitarist Steve Jackson. Its an eccentric 1960s throwback track, part Kinks, part early Floyd and one of the highlights on the album.
As the album progresses the tracks delve more into the pure pop of Life Pursuit, with the occasional nod to previous work. The soft folk ‘Read the Blessed Pages’, with its jarring synth-pipe solo, sounds like an early demo compared to tracks such as ‘I can See Your Future’ and album finale ‘Sunday’s Pretty Icons’.
Here’s a test for Belle and Sebastian fans. Try and compile a best of playlist of around 15 or so songs. I’ve tried many times but have always given up. I always end up listening to each album in turn and realising pretty much all their songs should be there, with Write About Love’s tracks being no exception
by Joe Lepper