I am obviously not the first to draw comparisons between Belle & Sebastian and The Smiths. Stuart Murdoch’s lazy drawl in the vocal is as close as you can get, and their signature style has only served to highlight the similarities. Their ninth studio album, titled Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance however, feels more like the result of a Morrissey Eurovision performance, a wacky world where the disco era chewed him up and spat him out and I’m happy, if not surprised, to say it works.
After a four year hiatus Murdoch’ and co are asking a bit of their fans on a polarising record that some of the masses might snub, if they are expecting the mellow folky sound of old. Peacetime is without doubt the groups biggest jump into the world of dance music, but to me there is enough folky-pop influence to stamp the Belle & Sebastian seal, and slide them nicely into a new but cohesive place. The lyrical content ranges from slightly political to the healing power of art, from nostalgic and personal to just wanting to “shake it off.” God that phrase is never going to be usable again is it? Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate…
Where was I? Oh. Nobody’s Empire arguably balances the worlds the best, carefully teetering the B&S of old and new. Not unlike Fleetwood Mac, the song is recklessly personal with a light and airy, foot tapping beat. Singing of Murdoch’s struggle with chronic fatigue, the irony isn’t lost that this album is their most energetic to date. The Party Line is the real party song, with a synth beat that would easily hold it’s own alongside Franz Ferdinand, Jamiroquai or Daft Punk, while Enter Sylvia Plath is straight up glossy Euro-trash and accidentally conjured memories of Abba’s Tragedy which I am having trouble forgiving them for.
But fans of their more typical sound will find comfort in The Book Of You, The Cat With The Cream, Ever Had A Little Faith and Play For Today, the second half of the record worth the wait if you haven’t so much enjoyed the first. And not to say I didn’t. After nine records it was time for a change and I’m glad this was the result, and something I’m not sure many artist are doing this well right now. There’s a lot to like here and if Belle & Sebastian help keep the sound of The Smith’s alive I’m all for it. Props to the super cool album cover too, is that chick holding an L85?