Some consider Belle and Sebastian to be the indie pop icons. From the early, eclectic days of Tigermilk, to the quirky, offbeat Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, the Scottish outfit has consistently proven that they can put a neat twist on the saccharine sensibility oft associated with their genre. And in 2010, this still hasn’t changed. Fans will undoubtedly feel that the band’s latest album, Write About Love has been in the works for too long, and while it doesn’t seem to present anything earth-shatteringly new, that cute Belle and Sebastian-ness we all know and love is, thankfully, still in place.
While somewhat more chilled out than The Life Pursuit, this new album gives singer Stuart Murdoch plenty of room to exercise his softly melancholy vocals, especially on tracks like the sleepy “Calculating Bimbo” – one of several that takes fans back to the wistful days of The Boy With the Arab Strap. However, it seems that he’s brought an interesting cast of characters onto Write About Love to support his voice – and perhaps the songs themselves. For instance, the subdued “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John” would be downright depressing, were it not for Norah Jones’ vocals. In fact, it can be argued that she carries the whole song. And another less familiar face (voice?) appears on the album’s title track. Listeners probably won’t recognize Cary Mulligan’s pipes, but she adds some pretty backing vocals to this, thankfully, more upbeat, almost ’70s-inspired song that weaves some airy organs under the nearly twee melody.
Over time, Belle and Sebastian have carved out a niche for themselves in the music world. With bands like Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens and Fleet Foxes elbowing in on this once green territory, one would expect these wistful pop veterans to try something new and fascinating – a new take on this twee-but-loveable indie sound that will firmly blow the aforementioned and other latecomers out of the water. Still (thankfully), the band doesn’t resort to Passion Pit-like synths or Britpop sheen in order to present something fresh. Yet this lack of freshness about the album might actually be its downfall. Write About Love proves Belle and Sebastian can put out a solid indie album with a dreamy, retro feel — and almost mock themselves on tracks like “The Ghost of Rockschool” — but other than appealing to die-hard fans, it’s hard to see how this sleepy and often redundant album will expand beyond the audience Belle and Sebastian has cultivated in the past 15 years. That is, unless these listeners are interested in hearing some more obscure guest vocals.
MP3: “Write About Love”