There are no doubt people out there who wish that Belle and Sebastian hadn’t become as big as they have over a steady course of nearly two decades. Frankly, I just wish such people wouldn’t be so damn precious. It’s great to see good bands do well, and when they produce records like their latest, utterly deserved.
Ever since Trevor Horn produced 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, their sound has become more radio-friendly and smoother, but still managing to encapsulate what makes B&S special. A case in point is the fantastic opener ‘Nobody’s Empire.’ Hailed as being the most personal and autobiographical song that Stuart Myrdoch has ever written, it’s a simplistic view to say it’s a true version of ‘The State That I Am In’ (which opened their debut Tigermilk). It deals with Murdoch’s battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, shortly before he formed the band. It might just be one of the finest songs they have ever done.
However, there’s a great deal on offer here. ‘The Party Line’ and ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ sees them not just dabble with dance music, but write a pop song that embraces dance music. And for those who really want B&S to break their heart (and why wouldn’t you?!) there’s the back to back pairing of ‘The Power Of Three’ and ‘The Cat That Got The Cream.’
It’s perhaps the most diverse album they have made, stylistically, and yet it all hangs together brilliantly. Given the fan base that they have cultivated over the years, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be another success. But also, it should open them up to many more admirers.