Friday, July 22, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 301: Belle and Sebastian

After the power and majesty of Black Sabbath, it was quite a jump to the breezy, summery sounds of this next record.

Disc 301 is...Write About Love

Artist: Belle and Sebastian

Year of Release: 2010

What’s Up With The Cover?: Yet another "Jones Soda" type cover from Belle and Sebastian, who consistently do not feature themselves on their album covers. This cover is a good depiction of the album title, as a woman looks out the window pensively, pen in hand, no doubt figuring out just what she will write about love.

How I Came To Know It: I already had three Belle and Sebastian albums, so this one was just me buying their new release. I keep meaning to buy a couple more of their albums, but when I'm in the record store it slips my mind.

How It Stacks Up: I have four Belle and Sebastian albums, I would say this is right in the middle, either 2nd or 3rd, depending on how I'm feeling about "The Boy With The Arab Strap" at any given moment.

Rating: 3 stars.

As I noted way back when I reviewed "Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant" at Disc 61, Belle and Sebastian are a Scottish indie pop band, known for their sing-song stylings coupled with sometimes disturbing lyrics.

"Write About Love" is a much more polished effort than their previous albums, but I don't mind that at all. I often wonder why certain types of music (notably punk and indie) pride themselves on being roughly produced. I can see why they would want to avoid over-production, but having good production only helps the music.

This record has excellent production, and reminds me strongly of lead man Stuart Murdoch's side project, "God Help The Girl" released the year prior. "God Help The Girl" is a superior album to "Write About Love", but I'll talk about it when I roll it.

Having recently reviewed an album by The Elected, which boasts a similar sound, I found myself comparing this album to that one in my head. "Write About Love" comes out clearly on top, and most of the songs are excellent.

If "The Elected" is the soundtrack for disaffected young British boys, than this is the album for those same boys when they grow up and go to college, and find out that it is perfectly OK to be a little odd - in fact, colleges are full of girls who are attracted to slightly odd boys. Just remember that while slightly odd is OK, don't be creepy.

Belle and Sebastian are masters of writing the pop hook, and the songs on "Write About Love" are catchy, and have a festive high tempo feel that is reminscent of sixties pop music. The songs make you feel like driving around in a convertible with the top down in summer time. Fortunately I can do exactly this, in my manly Stormy Blue Mica Mazda Miata. OK - it isn't that manly, but neither is this music, and it is still good.

Lyrically, the record is better than most of Belle and Sebastian's earlier work, if for no other reason than they are not purposely obtuse. Where there is room for interpretation on what a song is about, it serves only to add interest, rather than to frustrate the topic in the interests of clever phrasing.

One noteable exception is in "Calculating Bimbo". Despite the jarring sound of the title, the song was drawing me in until right near the end, where Murdoch sings:

"If someone else is near me
You scuttle up the pavement
It's no one that I care for
I pause for an effect
You calculating bimbo
I wish you'd let the past go."

Passable lyrics, except that the band can't resist actually pausing after singing "I pause for an effect" - thus demonstrating how they are...pausing for effect (duh). It is the overly clever type of line that always infuriates me with this type of music. Frankly a talented band like Belle and Sebastian is good enough on their own, without nodding and winking at their audience like that.

Contrast this with the perfect combination of whimsy and thoughtfulness on the masterful "The Ghost of Rockschool", and all is forgiven, however. "The Ghost of Rockschool" has B&S doing what they do best, lilting melodies, soft horns tastefully in the background, sparse production and gentle, beautiful vocal harmonies:

"Everything hums as the blue heart turns
And the blue girl's dawn
Is when the sun goes down
My story tonight
Is from your solitude heights
I have a window on your constellation"

The lyrics aren't brilliant, but they have a logical flow, and are phrased perfectly into the music, without any pretense or gradeschool silliness.

This is a solid record in most respects and if not for the occasional clunker, I was tempted to give it four stars. Still, I'm going to stick with three.

Best tracks: I Didn't See It Coming, Write About Love, The Ghost of Rockschool, I Can See Your Future

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