Thursday, 21 October 2010

Belle and Sebastian - Belle and Sebastian Write About Love

If Belle and Sebastian were sexual intercourse, there'd be a lot of wining and dining, loads of foreplay and the actual love making would be fireworks on the 4th of July incredible but, annoyingly, the sex would stop being so frequent, require a lot more effort and after a while dry up entirely. Then, last year, you find out that they have been having an affair with some "girl" recording loads of other songs and having a second wind of sexual intercourse that's similar, but not quite the same as before. After a fraught session at councilling you suddenly remember why you love each other all over again and suddenly, bam, you finally have that incredible sex you have not had in a long time.

I guess it's obvious that Belle and Sebastian would take this long, and take this route, to get back to a point where they could start to write songs that would not only sit perfectly on their first three seminal records but also, in the case of the song The Ghosts of Rock School, can actually be mistaken for songs from those albums. Write About L... I mean, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love is one of those blinding moments of surprise Nostalgia, like seeing that Who Wants to a Millionaire is still on the TV, that BBC's Formula 1 coverage still uses Fleetwood Mac's The Chain, or that Scotland will woefully not be able to qualify for the next big tournament because they screwed up the first set of games in the qualifying.

This album serves as a reminder that age is best embraced when recording an album that is so far into the future that you sang woefully about on your debut EP. Some other bands should take heed as to exactly how Belle and Sebastian have managed to keep such a high level of quality output. Save for the foray into Soundtracks (with Storytelling) and the hit-and-miss (grandest highs and lowest of lows) Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, the band have maintained an impeccable level of album craftsmanship ranging from the debut trifecta of the mid 1990s to the 2006 bolt of populist reinvention that was The Life Pursuit. It takes a good band to take these changes and nuances and move them beyond the trap of making the first album 10 times over.

The problem with Write Abo... Belle and Sebastian Write About Love is that there are a few misses. And, amongst the back catalogue of the songs that Belle and Sebastian have fastidiously put out with almost impeccable control, these misses are so far reaching and stand out it is not surprising that it lets the rest of the album down. The sweet piano and drums intro to I Didn't See It Coming and the gorgeous slow wander of Calculating Bimbo are destroyed by the horrible vocals that Norah Jones puts on the record. Indeed, this is not only the low point in the album, but also an indicator of the band forgetting that they don't need to use Norah Jones - listen to the sweet vocals that appear on the album elsewhere - even, for goodness sake, the other womanly vocal guest, Carey Mulligan of movies fame - she is used to perfection and as a great accompaniment in the track that in all honesty really shouldn't be the title track. It's a good song, but compared to other title tracks in the history of the band, it ranks as one of the weakest there.

I am a sucker for the similar. For example, the best track on the album, The Ghost of Rockschool, in my opinion, and as I have already mentioned, is so obviously Belle and Sebastian it actually feels like it is taken from an old recording session... for all it is worth it might as well have been. Indeed, this is a highlight that not only sees the speed that was rarely let up on The Life Pursuit slow down to a crawl and you are suddenly more comfortable in the shoes of this 21st Century version of the band. As with The Life Pursuit there are a few new sparkles to the repertoire but they feel a lot more natural here and more polished, and not in that Autotuned perfection kind of way, but in that way that actually compliments the album. Now that they have done a trilogy of pop infused albums embracing the new techniques given to them by their success, Belle and Sebastian are probably the greatest band Scotland has ever produced. Remarkably still the band that does this kind of music the best and still the band that slips underneath the mainstream clouds.

The question remains - if I find Belle and Sebastian to be so great, why the fuck would I ever give this a bad review? Could I? Would I? Well, yes I would, as not only would I disappointed, but it'd be a luscious "Told You So" after the "God Help the Girl" episode. Write A...Belle and Sebastian Write About Love isn't the best Belle and Sebastian album, it never could be, but it again works and proves that the collective is a grand thing. The only worrisome feature of the album is the long gestation period and the implications that we are now another album closer to the bands Final Album. When that day comes Scotland will be a tiny less sunny.

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