“Can I write a piece about you now that you’ve made it?” – A review of Belle & Sebastian’s new record!

(Caitlin Moran said something once about if you want to be a writer, you must learn how to be a writer on a treadmill, lest you will die from eating biscuits. I feel the same applies to a gap year.)

A still from the band's new video, Nobody's Empire.
A still from the band’s new video, Nobody’s Empire.

Hi hello hi! I haven’t written for around 2 months, but I’m back today for a specific reason- we have had the new Belle & Sebastian album unleashed to us, and I couldn’t help but take a listen, in the same way that I can’t help but eat another biscuit. It’s called Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, which we so do, and it’s released on Matador next week. I feel guilty, and ashamed as J pre-ordered the LP for me for Christmas, but I still couldn’t help but take a listen. In a way that a New Year often promises a feeling of fresh starts and beginnings, it seldom does compared to the excitement behind a new album, especially when it’s their ninth studio album, and the previous 8 have been highly regarded as ‘my jam.’

I saw them play in Paris, Halloween 2014, where they played some of the new material- much to the approval of myself and Ella, and these 2 or 3 European guys who we befriended for the night, quietly discussing beforehand which was our favourite B-side as we sat on the ground in our cardigans so we were near the front (we weren’t in cardigans but let’s just create the twee dream.)

The album opens with Nobody’s Empire, and although not initially loving it, I now really really rate it, especially as an opening track. I think I wasn’t listening to it at all at first, I was just playing it as background music, tossing my hair back like ‘Zzuuh, nothing will ever beat The Model, or whatever.’ But then I played it, thought about it, listening to the lyrics along with the lovely Marx-and-Engels-y piano, and decided I was into it, really hard. Essentially, an autobiographical song about the frontman of your favourite band, is the best thing ever in a fangirl sense. The song talks about Stuart’s struggle with ME, dealing with a chronic illness, lying in bed feeling all useless,

“I was like a child, I was light as straw
When my father lifted me up there
Took me to a place where they checked my body
My soul was floating in thin air”

Very cool. A great opening choice, it reminds me of Thunder Road, the notorious opener of Born to Run by Springsteen, with it’s storytelling-y, piano-y beginning, into a big sounding, life affirming sound as the song builds and builds. Also he sings, “If I had a camera I’d snap you now, cause there’s beauty in every stumble”, which makes me swoon- BECAUSE I AM ALWAYS STUMBLING, METAPHORICALLY AND PHYSICALLY.

Track 2 is called Allie, supposedly the female perspective in which Stuart writes from for this album. I can’t possibly comment on this track as it opens with Stevie, ‘ba-da-da’ing, which is too much for a fangirl. You’re just like, OMG! It’s Stevie! And he’s ba-da-ing!

Anyway. What I can disclose about this song, what I like about it, is the same old, trusted B&S formula- which is all like, ‘Angry girl gets angry about things and we sing about it with pretty 60’s melodies and instruments.’ It just works, “You made a list of all your heroes & you thought about what they went through/ It’s much harder, much darker than anything that happened to you.” I can relate to that, I’m ashamed to admit. That frustration of being a teenager and wanting anything ANYTHING to happen to you, no matter what, it’s just something that will trigger you to move out, or write a song, or get a haircut. Kind of wanting to pursue the *ahem* struggle of something to get a story, if anything, out of it- but then in reality just sitting around in your pants eating Wotsits watching Netflix. Adolescence.

Next up, The Party Line! This is the first single released from the record, so if you haven’t heard it already, you probably already have in H&M or something. (I’m not denouncing them as sell-outs, I did actually hear this in H&M, and internally squealed, bopping my head in a nervous, twitchy sort of way for 3 minutes, probably looking like I’d shoplifted something.) I totally hated this song when I first heard it, and mourned the loss of my band- before the curse of the fangirl hit and I was like- HEY!! GUYS!! CALM IT! IT’S JUST A DIFFERENT DIRECTION!’ I thought it was too repetitive and tinny-sounding, and nothing *sigh* like Judy and the Dream of Horse *sigh*, but then I got over it, and now it’s my alarm. It dances me out of bed, every day. Favourite line goes to: “Where were you when I was king in this part of town?” I love the idea of fallen popularity, the more local the better; being ‘famous’ within the teenage population of your hometown. Just for wearing a cool leather jacket, shaving your head, etc.

The Power of Three is lovely, and Sarah is singing. The Cat With the Cream has some lovely, beautiful melodies with some sacred sounding strings. Enter Sylvia Plath is a total mess, and sounds like the Pet Shop Boys, but hey, I’ll probably love it by next week. The Everlasting Muse is a fantastic load of fun, with a Greek sounding chorus, a sound favoured by me and my friends, who happily danced to Zorba the Greek and Dominick the Donkey, on repeat for a long time on New Year’s Eve. Before I get quoted on that, it doesn’t sound remotely like Zorba the Greek, but hey, I am not equipped to write serious, proper album reviews. It just reminded me of NYE. This is a first listen, OK, guys.

Perfect Couples has the perfect (lol) Sympathy for the Devil sounding introduction, before it explodes into BASICALLY THE BEST PARTY SONG OF 2015. Maybe not a party party song, but the song to play as you set out the cheese before the party. It could so be in a musical. Oh, a Belle & Sebastian musical. They played this in Paris to a background montage of a very stylish, very choreographed scene of a living room party. It was all just très cool, bèbè.

The next song, Ever Had a Little Faith?, was so perfect for today, and is good, old fashioned B&S, with lyrics so perfect for rainy bus journeys, “Something good will happen, wait and see/ Do you spend your days second guessing fate?” & “Drop your sad pretence/ You’ll be doing fine, you will flourish like a rose in June.”

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Aural proof new albums provide more hope than a new year ever could. (The last 3 tracks also exist for you to stream, along with all the above tracks I’ve spoken about, but I have a to-do list the length of my leg. Also, with my ideal album at 35 minutes, the running time of just over an hour is too much for my ears and their poor stamina)

Stream it here:

In other news, I’m glad Christmas is over, spent 4 nights  in 2 different hotels in the past 7 days, was in Dublin last week, am in London twice this week and in Cambridge at the weekend to see First Aid Kit, again. Things could be worse.

Thanks for staying with me, if you did (which if you’re reading this- you did! So like, uh, thanks!)

T.A.L x

 

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