Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

"Write About Love"

Belle And Sebastian – Write About Love
15 October 2010, 14:00 Written by Erik Thompson

Words and their ticklish dual meanings have always been held precious by Belle And Sebastian, so it’s not really surprising that the title of their new record (and first in four years), Write About Love, has the potential for multiple interpretations. Obviously, the band has crafted and collected a batch of new songs about romance, affection, and the trials that often go along with giving your heart away, as they have been for their entire career. But when you say the name of the record aloud, there is also this underlying, inherent arrogance in the title that implies that the band’s understanding of matters of the heart are indeed correct and true.

It’s an interesting contrast in meanings, and certainly, knowing frontman Stuart Murdoch’s rather mordant sense of humor, he and the band could just be taking the piss on both accounts. But whatever the case, the Glaswegian collective has thankfully, after a lengthy hiatus, recorded another album full of their patented twee-pop goodness, and it’s one that finds the band doing away with most of the glossy funk of The Life Pursuit and returning to the refined, diaphanous song structures of their early work.

Perhaps Murdoch’s experience while recording the God Help The Girl record gave him the confidence to increasingly lean on and trust in his bandmates while serenely blending into the background a bit more. That egalitarian approach is evident straight away on Write About Love, which begins with Sarah Martin singing a lovely lead on “I Didn’t See It Coming.’ It’s a lilting, buoyant number that has an indelible melody and a sweet, ethereal breakdown halfway through where the band gets to show off their polished, expansive sound. Stuart takes over the lead on ‘Come On Sister,’ an upbeat, keyboard driven number that features the playful lyrics we’ve come to expect from B&S: “Everyone loves you, the boy in the corner, the postman, the policeman.” The song is a poppy lark, and it’s what the band does best.

The title and the last few phrases are the best things about ‘Calculating Bimbo,’ which is a bit of a plodder when compared to the festive start of the record. But things pick back up immediately with ‘I Want The World To Stop,’ a jaunty singalong that is one of the album’s clear standouts and again finds the band playing to their many strengths. Try and resist clapping along when the bass breakdown hits-it’s utterly impossible. ‘Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John’ seems to be getting a lot of attention, for reasons both good and bad. It features the guest vocals of Norah Jones, which caught many longtime fans (myself included) off guard and made plenty of listeners anxious to hear the results.

And while it’s not nearly as bad as most critics have made it out to be, it’s clearly not an exceptional song, and seems a bit out of place not only on the record but in the B&S canon as well. When they have such distinct and resonant voices in the band (including the ever-progressing Stevie Jackson, who sings his heart out on ‘I’m Not Living In The Real World’), there is really no reason to go outside of the band for such high-profile vocals unless you’re pandering a bit to gain a new, wider audience. That being said, though, the curious selection of actress Carey Mulligan to sing backing vocals on the title track somehow works, simply because the song is ultimately so much fun.

The second half of the record is more deliberate and somber than the first, but the songs still resonate poignantly, with ‘The Ghost Of Rockschool’ subtly echoing ‘Everyday People,’ as well as evoking how much things have changed for the band since ‘This Is Just A Modern Rock Song’ brought them out of their bedsits and into the spotlight. The muted nature of the second side continues with ‘Read The Blessed Pages,’ which is as stark and austere a song that Murdoch has ever committed to record, with most of the track featuring just Stuart’s solemn vocals over a delicate guitar riff. It certainly won’t grab people’s attention in a noisy room, but like Radiohead’s ‘Faust Arp,’ it’s a gorgeous, tenderhearted ditty that certainly has a vital place on the record.

The rich horns make a welcome reappearance on ‘I Can See Your Future,’ which again finds Murdoch content to drift on the periphery, letting Martin sing lead on the wistful number. Producer Tony Hoffer, who keeps things rather understated throughout much of the record, adds a bit of luster to ‘Sunday’s Pretty Icons,’ the lavish closing number that, even if it’s a touch overproduced, still works, and finishes the record in an upbeat, stately manner.

Belle and Sebastian have gone through a steady (and not so steady) evolution since Tigermilk, gaining and losing plenty of fickle fans along the way. But they’ve always managed to make and play by their own rules, keeping themselves interested and inspired before ever thinking about having that same impact on their fans. And while they’ve crafted plenty of desperately lonely songs about frustrated heartbreak and youthful experimentation over the years, it’s great to hear that they are still fascinated enough by the concept of love to keep writing about it, eagerly trying to finally get the words (and emotions) just right.


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