I wouldn’t say it’s a man crush — those are reserved for NPH and Justin Timberlake. What I would say is that I am consistently amazed by Murdoch’s voice and his ability to write songs that seem trite on the surface, but take on a deeper meaning if you really listen to the music.
It is with great relief that I announce Belle & Sebastian Write About Love to be a return to form for Belle & Sebastian. They’ve only released one album of new material since 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, The Life Pursuit in 2006. Pursuit is a good album, but much of it is bogged down, not really demonstrating what Belle & Sebastian do best.
This new record is a confection filled with so much sugary pop music, you may just run around for 20 minutes and then pass out after listening to it. As soon as the album gets going, with “I Didn’t See It Coming,” it is very apparent that the title “Write About Love” isn’t just something clever. We get 14 tracks of songs about the power of love, in different forms, from a band that has spent over a decade on the subject.
Belle & Sebastian step outside their norm on a few tracks this time out. They feature two songs with guest vocalists, Norah Jones on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John” and the star of the great movie An Education, Carey Mulligan, on the title track.
The Jones track actually sounds like it would fit in on one of her records. It’s a soulful song about missed opportunities at love and love taken for granted. It opens like this:
What a waste, I could have been your lover
What a waste, I could have been your friend
Perfect Love is like a blossom that fades so quick
When it’s blowing up a storm in May
The Mulligan track is a complete 180 from Norah’s. It’s a song about the power of love to pick you up when you’re down. It features lyrics so simple it seems stupid that no one has thought to use them in a song before:
I know a spell
That would make you well
Write about love
It can be in any tense
But it must make sense
The use of these two guest vocalists provides some freshness to tracks that might otherwise just sound like any other Belle & Sebastian song. I could certainly see some fans or casual listeners hearing some of this album and saying that it’s been done before. Something is different this time around though. I credit Norah and Carey for at least some of that.
I also credit Stevie Jackson, whose guitar work here is excellent. I think he’s an underrated guitarist due to the style Belle & Sebastian play. He isn’t afforded a lot of time to shine. We get flashes on a lot of songs. I think one of the saving graces of The Life Pursuit is that the arrangements of some of the songs let Stevie play around a bit more. The same is true here, and it sounds great.
All of the members of the band are strong here. The harmonies on “I’m Not Living In the Real World” are particularly strong. Nothing new for these guys, though. Sarah Martin doesn’t make one forget completely about Isobel Campbell, but she fills in more than adequately, and her voice compliments Stuart’s very well.
I’ve only listened to Write About Love four or five times now. It’s a bit early to tell, but I think if I had to, I would rank it third, behind Dear Catastrophe Waitress and If You’re Feeling Sinister in the realm of Belle & Sebastian albums. It’s a strong candidate for my top ten of the year at this point, and I suggest picking it up when it comes out.
- Belle & Sebastian hails from Glasgow, Scotland and is: Stuart Murdoch (vocals/acoustic and electric guitar/keyboards), Sarah Martin (vocals/electric guitar), Stevie Jackson (electric and acoustic guitar/vocals), Chris Geddes (keyboards), Richard Colburn (drums), Mick Cooke (trumpet/bass), and Bobby Kildea (guitar/bass).
- Write About Love is available for pre-order on Amazon.com for $12.99 (CD). It will also be available Tuesday on iTunes for $9.99 (mp3s).
- The group will be playing a sold-out show tonight at The Chicago Theatre with Smith Westerns. (Oh, and their Chicago Theatre show will be Belle & Sebastian’s first in North America since 2006!)
Belle & Sebastian performing “I Didn’t See It Coming