I remember when I was 12 and heard my very first Belle and Sebastian song. It was a warm early Summer day and I was playing hooky to avoid the kids at school. I sat at home watching the dust settle on a strip of light and was overwhelmed by a sense of belonging and love as Stuart Murdoch sang his way into my naïve, adolescent heart through the lyrics of the golden oldie ‘Piazza, New York catcher’. This was ten years ago.
Belle & Sebastian are a band made one third each of daydreams, of childish hopes and of everyday poetry which together make up that one special ingredient for those hazy indie dreams. Girls in Peacetime want to Dance is, in some ways, a beautiful addition to Belle & Sebastian’s admirable discography yet it leaves you cold with its attempt to guide the band towards something new that really does not work.
This album is a mix of bizarre elements – the opener ‘Nobody’s Empire’ is a classic Belle & Sebastian song with its personal touch and beautiful lyrics about the solitude and loneliness that lead singer Stuart Murdoch was going through during his time at the University of Glasgow. It’s the quiet before the madness/
There was a girl that sang like the chime of a bell/ She put out her arm and she touched me when I was in hell. Every single verse of this track gives you shivers with its painful beauty hidden behind the upbeat melodies. Sadly, this is the only one to stand out from this album.
‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ is a poor attempt of a dance-y song with its synth sounding like that one bad 1980s song that you really don’t like but they still keep playing on the radio. ‘The Party Line’ falls into the same category and you are left with the question: should I go on or just stick with listening to ‘Nobody’s Empire’? One of the very last songs on the album, ‘The Everlasting Muse’ is a bit of a bland mix of classic Belle and Sebastian with bossanova-esque and somewhat Slavic elements that seem a bit out of place.
‘Nobody’s Empire’ definitely is the highlight of this album. Unfortunately, as an opener, it also get your hopes high and the rest of the album doesn’t have what it takes to de-throne it as the best track of the album.
Heartbreaking as it is to say, this album is a poor attempt to navigate Belle & Sebastian in a new direction, in spite of its good try. It is a fun album – there is no denying that – yet it lacks the depth and unique quirkiness of albums like The Life Pursuit and Dear Catastrophe Waitress. But maybe some albums are not meant to change your life, maybe this one is just about fun and a reminder that we are alive and we should dance a bit more. And maybe we should. Even if it was to a song with cheesy 1980s synth sprinkled with references to a writer who managed to romanticize depression in the eyes of naïve teenage girls through her beautiful writing.By Kasimiira Kontio