Review Summary: Testing the waters
While “Expectations” may be one of Belle and Sebastian’s best songs ever, it’s surrounded by a lot of shi
t. Varied twee pop shi
t, that is. If there is one word to describe the whole of 90s-staple Belle and Sebastian’s honey-sweet 1996 debut album, Tigermilk
, than that’s basically it: varied
– a lot of these songs seem thrown together in an attempt to fine-tune a sound that would later become the band’s own.
is a great album, though - don’t get me wrong. But just make sure you go into it knowing that it’s (1) not Belle and Sebastian’s superb follow-up, If You’re Feeling Sinister
; and that (2) even if you run into some stale what-the-hell tracks like 80s-electronic-renaissance “Electronic Renaissance”, there’s still stuff like the driving chorus hook of the hand-clap-able “You’re Just A Baby” and the touching, melodramatic recap of early days in the string and brass-assisted “My Wandering Days Are Over” to pull the band back into your good graces.
You’ll find something odd about listening to Tigermilk
, especially when considering the fact that it’s made by an extremely consistent band like Belle and Sebastian: it’s a kind of training-wheels album for the band, in which they try out and tinker with their legendary twee pop aesthetic, seeing what works and seeing what doesn’t. Stuart Murdoch instills a delicate atmosphere with his 90s-era innocent voice throughout, and instrumentally, the band as a whole sounds tense, creative, and brimming with excitement. The product manifests itself into Belle and Sebastian’s most experimental album to come before the turn of the millennium.
Essentially this is what holds Tigermilk
back from being truly excellent, though. What you get here is a collection of indie pop tunes that individually sound as if having been penned and recorded at different points in Belle and Sebastian’s career. The album starts and ends very strongly – “Expectations” and “She’s Losing It” at the start of the album being heavy on the acoustics and Murdoch’s sunny-beach melodies, with the loner’s anthem “I Don’t Love Anyone” and a delicate letter to a girl on “Mary Jo” closing off things nicely. However, the middle of Tigermilk
marks an odd, disjointed transitioning point:
Belle and Sebastian’s experimentation here does not result in what you could call a bad
track, per se, but it does keep Tigermilk
from garnering that "complete package" feeling that has come with almost all of Belle and Sebastian’s albums since its 1996 release. “I Could Be Dreaming” is a song meant to be played out in three minutes, but instead stretches to an awkward, overextended six, and “We Rule The School” is the type of piano-based track that belongs at the end of a Belle and Sebastian album, instead of being where it is here, acting merely as a segueing piece into the aforementioned “My Wondering Days Are Over”.
You see, the blueprint for something as powerful as If You’re Feeling Sinister
is unmistakably here on Tigermilk
. The melodies of “Expectations” are classic Belle and Sebastian, and the ending of “I Don’t Love Anyone” is among the band’s best moments ever, instrumentally and vocally. But the thing is that the album is in fact a blueprint for what was to come, no more. That’s not to say that Tigermilk
is bad – compared to most of 90s indie pop, it’s definitely a staple. It just comes down to Tigermilk
a great album in an excellent discography, though: it’s going to look bad when ranked with rest, maybe, but it's still pretty damn good by itself.