Nine albums in, have Belle and Sebastian finally used up the last dregs of that ever potent miserabilia that has kept fans coming back for more for the last nineteen years? I desperately hoped not as I started listening to their latest offering, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance.
The first thing to note is the album’s persistent political overtone. The band have put away their Arab straps, left Sukie well behind in her graveyard and focused their lyrics on the current political landscape. Just listen to opener
‘Nobody’s Empire’. Underneath a catchy riff, the lyrics document the bleak conformity of modern life. Although, when sung in the ever enticing Glaswegian drawl of Stuart Murdoch, it’s still delightful – even humorous. “Now I look at you, you’re a mother of two/You’re a quiet revolution,” he sarcastically coos in the midst of this wonderfully dark critique.
True, their dark humour remains as virile as ever. However, the album is more disco than the indie rock sound the band are famed for. If you’re searching for the classic Belle and Sebastian sound, give ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’ and ‘The Cat with the Cream’ a listen.
The latter reeks of the band’s earlier hit ‘This Is Just A Modern Rock Song’. Its minimal guitar arrangement even comes with their trademark Pulp-esque voyeurism. Who doesn’t love lyrics featuring a grown daughter listening out for her mum having sex? Likewise, ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ has the bands identity stamped all over it. You can practically see the young fangirls swooning whilst reading the title, nursing a copy of The Bell Jar and If You’re Feeling Sinister on vinyl. However, they will quickly be disappointed. The synth-heavy track sounds more like a Pet Shop Boys song – and a dull one at that. The album is certainly experimental in sound, but their alchemy is not always successful. Often, the resultant product is more iron pyrite than precious metals. Not offensive to the senses, but neither greatly satisfying.
Yet, the album’s lead single ‘Party Line’ is a nugget of pure gold. The funk guitar riff is delicious, prompting you to dance to “the beat of the party line” and become one of the conformists the song warns you about.
It’s great to hear an established band play with their trademark sound, and be successful. It’d just be great if this could be said about more than one-third of the album.