Career In Brief: Belle and Sebastian


INTRODUCTION

I remember this cartoon on Nickelodeon in the mid-80’s, a show about a boy and his big white dog and their adventures in the Pyrenees. I still remember the catchy theme song too. Fast forward ten years and we find the cartoon was biographical, and that the young man went and grew up and changed his name to Stuart Murdoch and started writing songs about all the people him and the dog had met along the way. Turns out that most of the folks read a lot of the Bible and existentialist fiction and had strange sexual fetishes. Pretty engrossing lyrical fare. Go figure.

Don’t ask about Belle though. Sad story…

ALBUMS PROPER:

Tigermilk (1996) – [B+]: As a listening experience, decent, not great. As a mission statement, spot on. ["My Wandering Days Are Over"] (my review)

If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996) – [A+]: Transcendent pop vignettes. A world unto itself. ["Stars of Track and Field"] (my review)

The Boy With The Arab Strap (1998) – [A-]: Imagine 12 variations on The Beatles’ "I’m Only Sleeping" and that’s pretty much what you have here. ["The Boy With the Arab Strap"] (my review)

Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant (2000) – [C+]: More of the same from the B&S Express. Murdoch getting too democratic. ["Don’t Leave the Light On Baby"] (my review)

Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003) – [A+]: Band re-boots sound, injects with the heart of the sun, produces power-pop masterpiece. ["I’m A Cuckoo"] (my review)

The Life Pursuit (2006) – [A-]: After embracing 70’s power pop, the band mines the decade again, this time embracing funk and glam. ["Funny Little Frog"] (my review)

Belle and Sebastian Write About Love (2010) – [A-]: If there’s a record that amalgamates all of the band’s periods into one cohesive collection, then here it is. For the most part, spot on.  ["I Didn’t See It Coming"] (my review)

OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES:

Storytelling (2002) – [C+]: A film soundtrack that was, for the most, rejected by the filmmaker. About what you’d expect. Lots of incidental music, a few proper B&S tunes, and snippets of clever dialogue from the film. "Scooby Driver" is short, but a hint at where they were headed on their next LP. Overall, this one’s a skipper except for die hard fans (of which there are surely many). Besides, these sorts of collaborations rarely work out well, right?  ("Black and White Unite", "Wandering Alone")

Step Into My Office, Baby Single (2003) [2/2]: These 2 cuts are more akin to the band’s 90’s output. Pleasantly popful. ["Desperation Made Me A Fool"]

I’m A Cuckoo EP (2004) – [3/3]: Between this and the other 2 Waitress singles, Belle and Sebastian were apparently piling up greatness. Gotta love the Avalanches’ remix of "I’m A Cuckoo", and the other 2 cuts are great.

Books EP (2004) – [3/3]: Worth the price of admission for "Your Cover’s Blown" by itself. It’s quite simply one of the band’s most brilliant moments, an unending source of fun. "Your Secrets" is also a great non-album cut. Even the afterthoughts of the Waitress period were excellent.

Push Barman To Open Old Wounds (2005) – [A]: This compilation may have come after the band put on some muscle with Catastrophe Waitress, but it collects a whole bunch of EP’s released in the band’s "skinny" years. This ranks up there with Sinister as one of the band’s essential releases. It features crown jewels like "Dog On Wheels", "Lazy Line Painter Jane", "This Is Just A Modern Rock Song", and "I Know Where The Summer Goes." It’s not an album proper, but this ain’t no attic dust-off either. (my review)

The BBC Sessions (2008) – [A-]: Over half of the tracks are simply BBC sessions of already released tracks, but the real treat here are the four otherwise unreleased originals that constitute the band’s session with John Peel from 2001. That set is particularly revelatory when viewed as bridging the gap between Peasant and Waitress.  [tracks 11-14]

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