Rather like Rennie Macintosh before them, The Glasgow School of Art he designed and the artistic and architectural movement he helped create, Belle And Sebastian have become one of the more unlikely Glaswegian institutions to have survived popular cultural changes. Few would have given the light and 'whimsical' band a longevity that marks its nineteenth anniversary this January, but survive, adapt and thrive they have.
'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance' marks Belle And Sebastian's ninth studio album. With the longest gap yet between this and their last album, 'Belle & Sebastian Write About Love', you may be forgiven for thinking that creativity, commitment or enthusiasm are on the wane, but you'd be wrong. On the evidence of these twelve tracks the rest has been as good as the change it has introduced (to be fair, Stuart Murdoch has also been working hard on his other project 'God Help The Girl' in the interim years).
Nestled in between the very entertaining lyrical genius and left of centre harmonies are slices of Electro, Soul, Gospel (recorded in Atlanta, it's got to be a Gospel record according to the band), Funk, Disco, HiNRG, Glam and pure Pop. There is also a fresh sense of positivity that pervades the whole album despite, or perhaps even because of, some of its more interesting subject matter: "And if we live by the books and we live by hope does that make us targets for gunfire?" (Nobodies Empire).
'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance' is not the Eurovision concept album it may have started life as but it does have the occasional nod to Abba and The Brotherhood Of Man (bizarrely and beautifully brushed up against a hint of Visage's 'Fade To Grey' on the brilliantly constructed arrangement, performance and production of 'Enter Sylvia Plath'). If someone's planning an alternate 'Mamma Mia' (that's nothing like 'Walking On Sunshine'), this should be on the soundtrack.
The more flamboyant flourishes, less evident on some past B&S albums, litter this latest album. The competing factions of sombre verse spliced against a South American sounding horn section playing traditional 'Greek' dance on the 'The Everlasting Muse' may sound mental in essence, but it is ludicrously enjoyable.
There are, of course, episodes where the album veers into more familiar Belle And Sebastian territory; 'The Power Of Three' with its vocal akin to Green Gartside, the softly strung sumptuous serenity of 'The Cat With The Cream' and 'Ever Had A Little Faith' followed by album 'cornerstone' 'Play For Today' and 'The Book Of You' (guitar solo aside) are all sure devotee pleasers.
The two tracks lifted as singles from the album, Bobby Kildea's 80's leaning, Pet Shop Boys flavoured 'The Party Line' and, more recently, 'Nobody's Empire' allude to the album's quality and character but this still doesn't quite prepare you for the fantastic mix of songs, styles, references and arrangements that await you amongst the twelve tracks.
'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance' is one of the best Belle And Sebastian albums in long while, maybe even this century. Who knows? Maybe this will trigger something of a renaissance for the Glaswegian posse.