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it could have been a brilliant career

 

Belle & Sebastian

 

If you can find an indie-pop group that's more charmingly English Scottish, I don't want to hear about it. B&S consist of about seven different people, which is pretty surprising considering all the albums are pretty quiet. Not to mention they all start out the same way: Stuart the Singer singing ever-so-quietly, making you turn the CD player up and strain to hear him.

lineup: a whole bunch of people, mostly named "Stuart".

review index: Tigermilk / If You're Feeling Sinister / The Boy With the Arab Strap / Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant

missing albums: Storytelling and all them EPs


Tigermilk - 1996

Rating: ****
Best songs: The State I Am In, She's Losing It, My Wandering Days Are Over, We Rule the School
Worst songs: none, really...

 

See? Told you so. This album (specifically, the opening track "The State I Am In") opens with Stu doing the lilting mumble-sing thing that he does so well. Of course, one can't carry a song with just one person singing (insert Tori reference here), so they wisely choose to build it up with a bunch of guitars and Hammond organ. This gorgeous masterpiece is five minutes of wistful beauty that will quickly become a hallmark of Belle & Sebastian's career.

That last sentence was my attempt at writing like a real critic. What do you think? Not enough sarcastic remarks about the song titles? Anyway... I can't say a whole bunch about this album, as most of the songs pretty much follow the same twee acoustic guitar-based arrangements with piano/horn/string/synth/whatever embellishments. But damn, are those melodies super fantastic. "She's Losing It" has a chorus that should've assured it Top 40 status, but in this evil and heartless world we can't expect any such justice. Oh, wait, there is that one song, "Electronic Renaissance", which has a lo-fi synth-pop arrangement. But it still works!

I'd give this an even higher mark, but there are a couple salmon of doubt that prevent that: "I Don't Love Anyone" and the spoken bit in "I Could Be Dreaming" kinda bug me, and the chords to "You're Just a Baby" seem a tad ripped off from "Yours Is No Disgrace". But otherwise, this is an album.

I mean, a good one. Album. Good album. Very much so.


If You're Feeling Sinister - 1996

Rating: ***
Best songs: Me and the Major, Like Dylan in the Movies, If You're Feeling Sinister
Worst songs: Get Me Away from Here I'm Dying, The Boy Done Wrong Again

 

They did this the same year as the last one? Isn't that rushing things a bit? Judging from the contents of this record, perhaps it was. I'm not saying it's a bad album; it's that there are songs on here that just aren't good. A shame, yes, but "Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying" and "The Boy Done Wrong Again" are in the camp of 'songs that repeat themselves so much it makes Cole want to rip his Islets of Langerhans out with a melon baller'. Also, "The Stars of Track and Field" isn't nearly as impressive an opener as "The State I Am In" was.

But with those traxxx out of the way, there are plenty of succulent morsels of musical delight contained herein. Stu's gone all-out with the quaint British Isles character sketches "Me and the Major" and TITLE TRACK. "Like Dylan in the Movies" is another wonderful bit of Quiet But Catchy Indie-Pop (Patent Pending), and ooh, "Fox in the Snow"! Pianoey!

Sorry, I think my train of thought just derailed. There's some good stuff on here, but there's also some not-so-good stuff. Inconsistency is often the first step towards crapville with a band, but lucky Belle & Sebastian were able to overcome this setback and went on to produce the greatest record of their career.

I mean, if they had broken up after the next album.


The Boy With the Arab Strap - 1998

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: Sleep the Clock Around, It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career, Is It Wicked Not to Care?, The Boy With the Arab Strap (man, these titles are long)
Worst songs: mmmmnah.

 

As I very subtly hinted at the end of the last album's review, I consider this to be the best of the three B&S albums I've heard so far. They've jettisoned the craposity of stuff like "Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying", and instead concentrated on writing some of the most goddamn wonderful songs ever. "Sleep the Clock Around" might not in fact be the greatest song ever written, but it's pretty close. It is probably an indicator of the album's quality that "A Space Boy Dream" manages to be as engaging as the rest of the album, when it's just an instrumental with some oh-so-Scottish guy talking about some dream he had over top of it. You know I should hate something like that, but it's a testament to the total genius of this album.

Had enough of my drooling? Okay, I'm reluctant to give this 5 stars, because there are two songs on here ("Seymour Stein" and "Chickfactor") sung by some other guy (possibly also named Stuart) that just aren't particularly exciting. But the rest -- man, that's some good singin', good playin'!


Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant - 2000

Rating: **
Best songs: I Fought in a War, The Model
Worst songs: Beyond the Sunrise, The Chalet Lines, Family Tree, bla bla bla

 

Hey! Their last album was their best. That means this one should be pretty good too, right? Right?

Well... Apparently Stuart the Band Leader decided to go on holiday, because a bunch of other people sing half the songs on here. Some guy with a dark voice sings an incredibly crappy tune called "Beyond the Sunrise", a breathy-voiced female intones the pleasant "Waiting for the Moon to Rise", and that other Stuart guy actually sings a song that's not sluggish and boring ("The Wrong Girl"). Though it's not that great. And Isobel Campbell pops up to whisper "Family Tree". It is not up to the standard of "Is It Wicked Not to Care?". So that's like, 36% of the album that Stuart t.B.L. doesn't do jack on. And except for "Waiting for the Moon to Rise", it's not that exciting.

But what about the stuff he does bother to show up on? Well, they prove they can still kick ass on the opening tracks with the gorgeous "I Fought in a War", and the harpsichord-and-piano "The Model" is fairly entertaining. The rest, however, is less encouraging. "Don't Leave the Light On Baby" doesn't accomplish much, despite a neat electric piano riff, and "The Chalet Lines" is just dull dull dull. Actually, the only song that shows a pulse on the second half is "Women's Realm", and even that isn't that hot.

I really have no idea what went wrong here. You had it all, guys (and girls)! What's up with this bunch of lame stuff? At the very least it's generally listenable, but I don't know why I'd want to listen to this stuff.


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