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Song of the day – 248: Belle And Sebastian (a review)

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I was asked to review the new Belle And Sebastian album Write About Love for The Vine.

Don’t look for it. It’s not there. I listened to the album several times over, enjoyed it enough – especially the songs where they go more upbeat, not the song with Norah Jones so much, two of the songs I enjoyed particularly are ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’ and ‘I Want The World To Stop’ – and made the mistake of searching through a variety of reviews, already written on the Internet. Belle And Sebastian are Pitchfork sweethearts, don’t you know? They are Glasgow sweethearts. They are indie sweethearts. They are sweethearts, full stop. Most of the reviews agreed/couldn’t agree/didn’t know why they should agree that Write About Love didn’t/did contain the charm of the earlier Nineties albums when it all seemed/seemed not to be Stuart Murdoch’s game, and that the album was patchy/disappointing/a brilliant return to form. And that Belle And Sebastian had/hadn’t been on an upwards/downwards slide since 1999/2003/2008. They all seemed to agree, except for those who didn’t, however, that Belle And Sebastian are very literary, and wryly humorous, and have a delightful/not-so delightful turn with the male-female vocal interplay, and wasn’t it nice that Murdoch – a proclaimed, if slightly shy, Christian – had written a song overtly about God after all this time? Except those who didn’t mention it, or claimed otherwise. The company was equally split over the Norah Jones contribution, some proclaiming it to be the album’s absolute high spot, others suitably dismissive, others indifferent.

Most agreed that it was nice Murdoch was coming out of his shell a little more, except those who thought otherwise – and those who didn’t mention the fact at all.

Some reviews mentioned God Help The Girl, Murdoch’s side project. Most reviews mentioned other band-members, particularly the singers Sarah Martin and Stevie Jackson.

Many of the reviews used the following words somewhere within their descriptive passages: ensemble, chiming, timbre, counterpoint, storytelling, intricate, fictionalised (usually spelled the American way), twee, hiatus, poppy, ethereal, sweet, resonant, romantic, austere. What was truly alarming, however, was the way all the reviews merged into one amorphous voice, saying nothing, very loudly, over and over again. None stood out. All parroted the accepted line on Belle And Sebastian, whether positive, negative or indifferent. I didn’t want to add my voice to that babble of voices, so I decided not to write the review.

Apologies to my editor Marcus at The Vine, and to Belle And Sebastian’s Australian PR, if they’re reading this.

I don’t want to appear to be too down on Love, though. I have much time for Stuart Murdoch: he was one of the earliest champions of Careless Talk Costs Lives and wrote a couple of columns for us. His music and his band is fine. Some songs I can take or leave, others (like the one that follows) I listen to again, over and over. It’s just the morass of indistinguishable critical voices his music attracts… that’s what I can’t stand.

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