Belle and Sebastian
Write about Love
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2011, Volume 18, #3
Written by John Metzger
Tue March 8, 2011, 06:30 AM CST
For a band that began its career as a college project, Belle and Sebastian had remarkable run in the 1990s. In fact, itís doubtful that anyone expected the outfit still to be making records, or at least ones that matter, this far into the 21st Century. Without a doubt, Belle and Sebastian has had its share of difficulties. Like most groups, once it achieved critical mass in the wake of its 1998 set The Boy with the Arab Strap, the collective struggled to find fresh methods of delivering its intimate, orchestral folk-pop tunes. The departures of founding member Stuart David in 2000 and early recruit Isobel Campbell two years later certainly didnít help Belle and Sebastianís chances of surviving.
Nevertheless, through his perseverance, guiding force Stuart Murdoch ultimately succeeded in breathing new life into Belle and Sebastianís output. On Dear Catastrophe Waitress and The Life Pursuit, he revamped the groupís stylistic approach by creating lushly textured arrangements for his folk-pop tunes. Perhaps the most important shift to Belle and Sebastianís sound, however, sprang from the heartier rhythmic drive that propelled the outfitís songs. Derived, in part from the world of R&B, the underlying grooves lend a springy, almost joyous air to some of the material.
After a four-year hiatus of sorts that spawned a variety of solo projects and film soundtracks, Murdoch, once again, has resurrected Belle and Sebastian. Not surprisingly, the outfitís latest endeavor Write about Love is an extension of its recent work. In truth, the album doesnít introduce anything new to Belle and Sebastianís canon, though it does shine a light upon the R&B-oriented textures that increasingly have underscored its material. This is, perhaps, most apparent during Norah Jonesí guest stint on Little Lou, Ugly Jack, and Prophet John. At its core, however, Write about Love undeniably is a refinement of everything the group has done. Consequently, its contents fold together to create an irresistible encapsulation of the collectiveís career.
With Write about Love, Belle and Sebastian didnít waste any time trying to mask its intent. The driving beats and sunshine-kissed melodies surface on the setís opening track I Didnít See It Coming, and they recur frequently on subsequent tunes like the perky Come On Sister and the Who-inspired Iím Not Living in the Real World. Belle and Sebastianís folk-oriented roots pour through the hazy ambience of The Ghost of Rockschool, and its symphonic leanings lurk within I Want the World to Stop. More often than not, however, the outfit reaches beyond the Nick Drake-isms of its early work as its splashes Zombies-style jazz chords across The-Mamas-and-the-Papas-imbued title track and pushes the baroque callings of Read the Blessed Pages into the prog-rock of Jethro Tull.
Beneath the surface, however, Belle and Sebastianís songs largely remain the same, though the feelings of sorrow and yearning that emanate from the bandís work are now derived more from its vocals than they are from its music. Alternating between tales of broken romances and heart-on-sleeve pleadings, Write about Love still feels intimate, even as Belle and Sebastian drapes its arrangements in the colors of the rainbow. Considering how many other outfits have tried to walk this same path, it is too easy to dismiss the set as enjoyable but lightweight. Given time, however, Write about Love reveals that it is something greater. In fact, it might be the best effort that Belle and Sebastian has assembled in more than a decade.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2011 The Music Box