Prolific purveyors of finely captured real life pop, Belle & Sebastian, have little left to prove after 7 previous studio albums, various artistic off shoot activities and the nurturing of some unique talent along the way. 'Write About Love', their new 11 piece set, is unlikely to capture a vastly different or new audience and will inevitably satisfy those fans who have either been in since the beginning or been netted along the way. Whether that be through curiosity over voting irregularities for The Brits or because they liked that song in Juno is largely irrelevant as once drawn in to the world of bus shelters, chalets, waitresses, sex and gin there is a buy in and a belonging. If nothing else Belle & Sebastian should be awarded some sort of honorary degree from the British Retail Consortium for committing to verse some great British high street 'institutions'....Debenhams, M&S, Safeway, Clarks and even C&A have all been part of the Belle & Sebastian back catalogue.
One of the most engaging parts to the bands success and overall appeal has been their blackly comic, sometimes scathing, often bleakly realistic and biting lyrics. The appeal of B&S is akin to that of the band which Stuart Murdoch has cited as such a major influence and inspiration to his work; The Smiths. They both also give rise to very angular and blunt opinions from those who may be counted on to usually straddle any fence they are presented with. You do not find many who will proffer the 'Yeah they're Ok' phrase if asked. So will Write About Love live up to past glories, divide opinion or, further endorse the bands status as 'The Best Scottish Band Ever'?
Setting off with 'I Didn't See It Coming' you are almost immediately treated to B&S lyrical gold with...."We've been going Transcontinental, we've got no car we just take a rental." The soft 60's beats skip along as the high harmonies glisten and revolve around the pleading chorus. The Casio keyboards are brought out for the more familiar B&S sounds of 'Come On Sister' before the more reflective and sombre delicacy of 'Calculating Bimbo'. The title alone is so B&S. No other band around today could even contemplate titling a song by such a phrase yet alone be able to make it work so effectively as a lyric..........."I get the midnight phone call, I'm your captain for the long haul. If someone else is near me, you scuttle up the pavement, it's no one that I care for. I pause for an effect. You calculating Bimbo, I wish you'd let the past go." Brilliant.
In 'I Want The World To Stop' and the first single, 'Write About Love', Belle & Sebastian show that they are still capable of delivering perfectly crafted proper pop of alarmingly good quality. Here are two tracks that move the band on, whilst not losing their USP. Detractors may question the lyrical prowess of B&S's main protagonist but I think this is not necessarily so. If your life revolves around those you meet and interact with then after ten years of relative success you can assume that you don't still mix with all the characters you were once so familiar with: Lazy Line Painter Jane and Photo Jenny although stars of their own songs are probably no longer known to the band. Life moves on and so must the band. "Write about love, it could be in any tense but it must make sense."
Write About Love may not rank as one of Belle & Sebastians best but it is still a fabulous album. More polished than most without any pieces of quirky production, and longer in the making, it does sound a little more laboured. The early years of writing, recording and releasing the latest inspiration that they could commit to tape may have long gone but it was still worth the wait. One of the joys of Belle & Sebastian is that you could forgive a song you didn't immediately like because there would be five others due for imminent release that you did and although WAL may not have that instant gratification throughout I dare say that with each visit you will only grow fonder.
(Should I have mentioned Norah Jones? Oh well)