The process of making an album is never an easy feat, and some bands give up after two or three jumps over this great hurdle in their careers. Then there’s Belle & Sebastian, who with the release of ‘Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance’ have taken their count up to nine exceptional records spanning across their near twenty-year career.
The youth of the nation, and the world, are perhaps the most apathetic when it comes to the subject of politics, but Belle & Sebastian have taken inspiration from this tumultuous world to inadvertently cover weapons and political disdain set to upbeat folk inspired melodies and the result is a statement of intent more powerful than Russell Brand spewing the thesaurus on Newsnight.
When asked about the opening track; ‘Nobody’s Empire’, Stuart Murdoch has been quoted as saying it’s his ‘most personal yet’. Confessional song-writing is a hard task master and picking content to include can be a fraught process, but Murdoch’s inclusion of the contrasting upbeat melody and Primal Scream-esque harmonies are so joyful and atmospheric. The mere sound of the tracks on this album sound as if they were crafted to be performed in big spaces. ‘Allie’ is reminiscent of The Smiths and there are tinges of this all across the record. Talks of guns and allies call to mind the same powerful statements Morrissey intended to make on records such as ‘The Queen Is Dead’ and ‘Meat Is Murder’. It also nods towards The Beach Boys, with its ‘bababumbmubabababum’ opening and these two comparisons surprisingly interlink well and that comes from someone who has always thought that The Beach Boys fell on the wrong side of twee.
Bored of folk music? Well don’t worry, it’s time for the Europop portion of the record… No, not a sentence I ever thought I would have to ask either. ‘The Party Line’ and ‘The Power Of Three’ go off on a slight tangent to the rest of the record in that they’re so modern I genuinely thought I’d stopped listening to Belle & Sebastian and clicked on some new Swedish pop band. This new direction is unchartered territory for the band, but yet they still have managed to master it. They wanted synths, so they got synths. They wanted hip hop break beats, they damn well got hip hop break beats. Probably not a decision they took lightly and it paints a mental image of Belle & Sebastian all sat in a room listening to Biggie Smalls contemplating how they could utilise a drum machine as good as that.
‘The Cat With The Cream’ is the calm after the Europop storm and it’s compilation is somewhat orchestral with subtly elegant strings that rise and fall like the tempo of the album has done so far. But the calm is once again shattered by the 80s melee that is ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’. Coming across as the thinking man’s Wham! or Spandau Ballet, again I’m a little perplexed as to what inspired this sudden detachment from their trusted sound. Progression and evolving is something that bands of all stages at their career must experiment with but part of me is too much of a purest to fully embrace this shift. Which is a shame because as stand-alone tracks, the more synth filled tracks are absolutely fantastic; I just don’t know if they’re Belle & Sebastian fantastic.
Climbing back onto the rocky bandwagon, ‘The Everlasting Muse’ is reminiscent of the ‘Tigermilk’ era Belle & Sebastian and despite being closest to the sound I fell in love with all those years ago, when it’s sandwiched into this record, it comes across a tad aloof and sonically isolated until the bridge kicks in, shifting it into a different beast entirely. Think ‘Tusk’ marching band style trumpets and cheerleaders twirling batons and you’re there.
The title of this album should have been ‘Curveball’ as opposed to its actual title. ‘Perfect Couples’ is centred on echoey bongo drums and Nile Rodgers funk guitar that given the nature of the previous track, threw me completely. How does a band go from The Smiths to The Pet Shop Boys in a few songs? Just when it seems they’re sticking to one soundscape, they flip the world upside down and jam out with funk and soul. This veering off into other dimensions gets easier to predict the further into the album you get, but initial listening definitely will have you on the edge of your seat.
Just in case you didn’t think there were enough strings in the bow of Belle & Sebastian; as this album so far has showcased, they thought they’d better take you to a calypso party just in case you weren’t having enough fun yet. No I don’t know why we’re here either, but ‘Play For Today’ reminds us that music can be both fun and serious. We Brits are very good at keeping our emotions subtle and Belle & Sebastian are the perfect example of how being more open and honest about how you feel can reap great rewards because ‘Play For Today’ is the record’s high-point.
‘The Book Of You’ is a total cacophonic mess of a track and hence why I am not giving it the time of day, it invokes tension and will make you agitated. Closing their ninth record with ‘Today (This Army’s For Peace)’ reminds me of my generation. The so-called doomed generation because we take too many selfies and tweet a lot. ‘This army’s for peace’ is such an important and powerful statement and seeing the way young people perceive and detect problems in the world faster than those older than us actually restores my faith in humanity a lot, and if you’re not lucky enough to have people in your life like that, well then you can get that same feeling I have just by listening to this song. We’re an army for peace, and it’s time we all realised the responsibility we owed the world and all of the people in it.
Yes this record is a bit all over the place, but nobody wants to hear the same ideology drudged out over an entire record. ‘Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance’ is an exceptional record and once you get past the initial scatty nature, there are a lot of incredible and relatable thoughts, clearly presented. As a body of artistic work, it manages to give every fibre of Belle & Sebastian’s inner workings a voice.