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Belle And Sebastian - Write About Love

They’ve gone back to their roots, and the results speak for themselves.

What’s this?! Belle and Sebastian writing about love? They definitely haven’t done that before! Wow, they’re really moving into new territory in the lyrics department, aren’t they?

All joking aside, while the subject matter of the Scottish group’s new record finds them retreading (over)familiar ground, what has changed is their sound. Not that they’ve gone off in any radical new directions. It’s even better: they’ve gone back to their roots, and the results speak for themselves.

Their last outing, 2006’s ‘The Life Pursuit’ proved that the old dogs had learned plenty of new tricks. They sounded more expansive than ever, more polished too, but in making the transition to a bigger, brighter sound, they lost very little, if any, of those things that had made them great.

It was a startling return to form, quite different to early records like their high-water mark ‘The Boy With The Arab Strap’, yet every bit as consistent and cohesive as the earlier material. It came after a soundtrack to the 2002 film ‘Storytelling’ and two sub-par studio albums: Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ was brilliant at certain times, but at others it was woeful; and as for ‘Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, its title alone says it all. ‘The Life Pursuit’ was just the shot in the arm the group needed.

In that respect, ‘Belle And Sebastian Write About Love’ has much in common with their last album. Thankfully, it’s just what we were hoping for after a four-year wait. A break that long would have come back to haunt them if this had been anything less than great - but there’s no need to worry about that. From the word go, this is B&S at the peak of their powers.

Less overtly poppy than songs like, say, ‘White Collar Boy’ or ‘Act of the Apostle’, the record is still packed with hooks and the band’s trademark infectious melodies. ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’ sets out the album’s stall nicely, an expansive five-minute opener that features a fine vocal performance from Sarah Martin and a joyous piano line that announces their return in style.

It sets a high standard, that’s for sure, but the rich vein of consistency that ran through ‘The Life Pursuit’ is also on show here. No song feels sub-par or out of place, and in tracks like ‘Come On Sister’ and the delightfully groove-laden ‘I Want The World To Stop’ there is a feeling that nothing but the best would ever have sufficed.

The album mixes more energetic moments like the two aforementioned songs, with more restrained and laid-back ones. In this way, it makes sense that Norah Jones should lend her pipes to a duet with Stuart Murdoch - and end up stealing the show (‘Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John’). This contrast is seen again in the pair of ‘I’m Not Living In The Real World’ (an uptempo slice of sugar-rush pop) and ‘The Ghost Of Rockschool’, a song that quite atmospheric, and has a vocal line that owes more than a little to U2’s ‘All I Want Is You’, not that this is necessarily a bad thing.

The album highlight comes in the form of its penultimate track, ‘I Can See Your Future’. Martin once again assumes vocal duties, her voice backed by a ridiculously catchy saxophone hook that drives the song. It needs to be a single, since this album is definitely geared towards commercial success (and indeed, early sales have indicated that this is a distinct possibility), and it ticks all the boxes. The song, along with the record itself, will become a B&S classic in time, there’s no doubt about that.

Tags: Belle and Sebastian, Reviews, Album Reviews

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