Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance by Belle and Sebastian

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Seth Montpelier '18, STAFF WRITER

Stuart Murdoch has been busy. He made his directorial debut in the lovely musical film God Help the Girl and has been touring pretty heavily. This explains why his band has taken five years to release a new album; their longest break in history. While the album is far from Belle and Sebastian’s best, it is still a lovely pop piece and a satisfactory return.

Many of the tracks expand on what 2010’s Write About Love began: synthesizer-driven dance pop. The opening track, “Nobody’s Empire,” “The Party Line,” “The Power of Three,” “Enter Sylvia Plath,” and “Play for Today” sound more like The Pet Shop Boys than the classic sound of the band (Nick Drake, The Left Banke sounds). These songs are fine in their own respect and the layered electro-beats are expertly crafted.

“Nobody’s Empire” is the best of this bunch. There’s an alarming maturity in this track’s lyrics; a far cry from the frustrated and depressed narrators in old songs. He now looks at those characters and understands that there are far bigger problems in the world- problems bigger than the angst.  There are other great songs that remind one of several other songs throughout history.

“Allie” is a song that begins with a vocal hook in the vein of the Kinks’ “David Watts.” However, it turns quickly into a dark song with political undertones, an unusual feature for a Belle and Sebastian song.  “Perfect Couples” begins with African percussion similar to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” but quickly turns into a funk in the style of Billy Joel’s “The Stranger.” This song is also probably the funniest, blasting the typical suburban families, but also the futility with bailing on such marriages. Not many modern bands can turn a jazzy-blues number into a Greek-style chant (“The Everlasting Muse”). However, the best songs will remind you of the band in their heyday.

“The Cat With the Cream” is an acoustic ballad with graceful strings, and is, again, somewhat political. The best track is “Ever Had a Little Faith?,” which could rank among the band’s classics. It has all the best elements: Stevie Jackson’s jangle-guitar, Murdoch’s precious vocals and melody, and lyrics sympathizing with frustrated young girls. The Celtic strings richen the pure pop. “Play for Today” has a guest singer, Dee Dee Penny, who gets the most clever lines. Although Murdoch tends to stick with lyrics of desperation and devotion, but he still has his sly wit, which is always welcome.

The record closes with “Today (This Army’s for Peace)” and sounds like the Stones’ classic “Moonlight Mile” closing Sticky Fingers. It’s quiet, almost meditative. It builds heavily only to die back down. The lyrics are highly reflective and are atmospheric. This doesn’t sound like Belle and Sebastian’s old work. It sounds ages ahead of its time. Belle and Sebastian will most likely never reach the heights of the If You’re Feeling Sinister-era. It’s an extremely tough act to follow. But, there’s no doubt that they are among the best bands today. Whatever else they’ve got in the works is welcome.

 

4  out of 5 Dolphins