Belle and Sebastian have been an ever-growing cult favorite since their 1996 debut, “Tigermilk.” In fact, their version of twee pop, reminiscent of classic acts like The Smiths, has been featured as a cultural phenomenon in films like “Juno” and “500 Days of Summer.” Their name is synonymous with posh, sad narrative songs about well-dressed students, priests, painters and beautiful track athletes—all with a signature laxed sass. They fit in well with other low-profile acts of the ‘90s.
In 2006, Belle and Sebastian released “The Life Pursuit,” a more keyboard-heavy affair than their previous outings that proved that they could translate their same style into a more modern sound.
Admittedly, “Write About Love” keeps things much the same as their previous work. That said, they’ve found a formula that works, and there are some special moments on this record.
The music is dreamy from the first track, with a synthesizer accompanying the wispy vocals of Martin and Murdoch. It combines the two features associated with the act: light-stepping 60’s psychedelic rock and plush 80’s pop.
Despite their cutesy appearance, Murdoch’s lyrics have never been fickle. For instance, while “Calculating Bimbo” lures you in as if a simple, musing love song, it later contains biting lines like, “Every secret word/ paints a picture/ when you are uptight/ you calculating bimbo/ I wish you’d let the past go.” The bass-bumping “I Want the World to Stop” shows him craving for life, recognition, and involvement in a world that can seem transient and unaffected. Similarly, “I’m Not Living In the Real World” follows the journey for meaning and understanding through a set of colorful, optimistic keyboard chords. So they are still fanciful, but they are also concerned with things relevant to real life.
Their latest album features guest vocals from two well-known performers who share some of the same aesthetic directions. Norah Jones adds soft melodies on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” which feature charactestic jazzy drum fills, syncopated guitar and fluid duets. This radio-friendly track uses the two vocalists to contrast the male and female views of a forgone relationship.
Academy award-winning actress Carey Mulligan (“An Education”) also lends her vocals to the title-track of “Write About Love.” Starting with a bluesy, angst-filled spell, the track bursts with Mulligan’s joyfully (and ironically) toned melodic chorus “I hate my job/ I’m working way too much/ everyday I’m stuck in an office.” The song balances these mundane, claustrophobic spaces with the skyscraper’s roof above, an obvious freedom metaphor.
Belle and Sebastian have always been very interactive with their fans. To promote their latest release, they collected fan-generated photos that featured the word “love” written on sidewalks, buildings, and other creative places. Later this year, they will also write and distribute a 7” single about love based on one of the many 300-word essays submitted by fans.
In the end, Belle and Sebastian’s latest release, playful and romantic, is typical but not a disappointment. It’s probably exactly what you’ve been daydreaming about.