Their latest album, “Belle & Sebastian Write About Love” is a decent package, in that the music is what an audience expects from the band, but a mediocre one in that it is simply not as strong as some of their earlier efforts.
“I Didn’t See It Coming” putters the album into existence with some white noise and a dry drum line. As far as establishing a theme for the album, it’s pretty straightforward: this is typical Belle & Sebastian music, and don’t expect anything groundbreaking. The song rests on Sarah Martin’s delicate vocals, accompanied by Murdoch and a quivering guitar line in the background, sounding familiarly fresh. The music is pleasant and less sugary sweet then other B&S songs. So far, so good.
“Come on Sister,” second on the track list, is by far the best one on the album. Bubbly and sweet, the keyboard-led song is all about idealization of love, but it’s still, well, fun. The keyboard sounds like a 60s moog, a synthesizer used particularly for disco music, and although the music does not come off as a tribute to the era at all, it has a vintage thing going on with the unconventional synth line.
The title of “I Want The World To Stop” echoes the thoughts of many a Stanford student during finals week, although of course, in a completely different setting. A quick, tightly wound-up song, the vocals are a fun call-and-response game between Murdoch and the rest of the band. It gets even better with the addition of clapping, wind instrumentation and even some faint strings to build the exit of the song. It’s pure Belle & Sebastian perfection.
The following “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John” does not just feature Norah Jones on the album, but incorporates her. A bittersweet ballad, it sounds so much like one of her own compositions that it cuts the atmosphere the album was building right in half. Although it incorporates a synth (which is unthinkable on a Norah Jones album), the bluesy sound is much too disentangled from the rest of the album and is therefore not an asset, but a burden.
“Write About Love” tries to reassert the classical power pop the band is known for. Upbeat, sweet and dramatic, it features Carey Mulligan (of Shia LeBeouf fame) responding to Murdoch’s religious two liners, like “I know a way/Get on your skinny knees and pray.” The response? “Maybe not today.” Totally nailed. It does the job in welcoming back Belle & Sebastian to their own album.
But from there on, the album takes a slight downward turn. Although the songs are good, some channeling bygone-era pop (“I’m Not Living in the Real World”), some strong on the religious theme (“Read The Blessed Pages”), some of them slow and mournful (“The Ghost of Rockschool”), the guest star appearances outshine them all and cause a rift in the listening experience.
This is Belle & Sebastian all right, but it is not “The Life Pursuit” (2006); it is far from their best work. This is just a new album with the same kind of music, and the truth is that they have done it better before.