Belle and Sebastian on the radio…
Well, not exactly your car radio but likely your satellite or streaming radio. Our favourite Glaswegians are back with yet another collection of mirth filled, lush pop pleasantries. But, with a twist. Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance follows its quirky title by refashioning the traditional 60s pop or up-beat folk balladry with a decidedly more electronic and dance like feel. Wait, what are the boys and girls of B&S changing their brand and getting in line with the modern trend? Not exactly. If anything, B&S are indie-music’s most proficient purveyors of nostalgia (well next to She & Him), constantly digging through pop forms of the past for inspiration. Girls has the sound of a B&S record remixed with an ear to Blondie or late 70s disco more than contemporary dance. Simply listen to the tracks catchiest and most intriguingly titled track “Enter Sylvia Plath.” Would you ever in your wildest dream imagine a song nominally (at the very least) about Plath sounding like a dance club staple and having the carefree whimsy with which Stuart and company have imbued it? If anyone could turn a depressed and demure subject into the stuff of frivolity and fun, it is Belle and Sebastian. (Let’s not forget that it was “Seymour Stein” from the band’s third album, The Boy from the Arab Strap, which was playing and inspired Barry’s (Jack Black’s) tirade about “sad bastard music” in High Fidelity (which was followed by Katrina and the Wave’s “Walking on Sunshine”).) Or, what about the Caribbean steel drum-tinged epic seven minute duet “Play for Today”?
Enough with the digression, what about the record? Does it work?
On the whole, yes. As with many of the bands records since Fold Your Hands Child…, there are moments where you start to lose the thread a bit, but they have such a unique and wondrous formula that works: a Belle and Sebastian song always has the feel of a song you’ve heard before and has returned to visit. It is not simply the style that is nostalgic but the mode and feeling it creates. When you hear “Nobody’s Empire” and “Allie”, your mind’s eye cannot help but turn backwards to a simpler time in your life or cultural history. Perhaps this is because the song sounds so similar to what B&S have done before? But then again, they’ve always felt that way, even from the outset? If ever there were a songwriter and songwriting collective that embodies the Beach Boy’s classic “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”, it is Stuart and Belle and Sebastian. And, I, for one, am glad they continue to recall and bring me back to a groovy and happy place.
But listen for yourself: Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance