Belle and Sebastian are a 7 piece pop band from Glasgow, Scotland. Their music can usually be described as "pretty" or "delicate", but without the negative connotations that those words may convey. The band formed as the brainchild of Stuart Murdoch. He recruited members "by instinct" in an all-night cafe in Glasgow. Eventually he found 6 other members, all college students, and Belle and Sebastian was born. The band originally was to just be a small school project type thing, and they initially agreed to release two albums and then split.
Their first album, Tigermilk
, which was released in May of 1996 was an underground success almost strictly from word of mouth. Only 1,000 copies were in circulation, and reports were that copies were going for 75 pounds. The album was eventually re-released on a wide scale in 1999. The bands second album, and the one generally attributed to putting Belle and Sebastian on the map, was If You're Feeling Sinister
. It recieved wide acclaim in the UK as well. The Boy With the Arab Strap
is the bands third formal album. While this album doesn't break new ground for Belle and Sebastian, it consolidates their talents, and the result is an album full of folk-pop treasures.
It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career
The song opens with Stuart Murdoch's sweet vocal approach to set a beautiful atmosphere. He is accompanied only by a bass guitar as he wispers "He had a stroke at the age of 24. It could have been a brilliant career. Painting lines in a school that was too well known. Painting lines with a friend that had gone before. She challenged everyone to a fight." Soon light piano and slide-guitar and acoustic guitar come in. Isobel Campbell adds beautiful background vocals for the second half of the song, and the vocals harmonize very well. "It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career" is a perfect opening to the record, and really defines the type of band that Belle and Sebastian is.
Sleep the Clock Around
The song slowly fades whith dreamy keyboard effects. The effects create a sort of hypnotic effect on the listener, and the background piano creates a soft, sensual tune. Stuart Murdoch and Isobel Campbell sing in harmony in the typical boy/girl pop song style. The music builds slightly with long synthesizer notes buzzing underneath the vocals, which are also supported by an organ and a nice trumpet part. The song climaxes as a bagpipe comes in to replace the trumpet, and the song builds up a bit and then ends.
Is It Wicked Not To Care"
The track opens immediately with Isobell Campbell on vocals. Her high timid voice is very beautiful, and creates a lighter mood for the song. The music soon comes in to support the vocals with a snare drum, and acoustic guitar. It slowly builds with different instruments added at different points throughout the song. An organ comes in, then a clean electric guitar, then a short violin solo. Stuart Murdoch comes adds nicely harmonized backing vocals to the final verse of the song, and Campbell's vocals become more emotional near the end. The song finishes with a short organ riff with a light xylophone in the background.
Stevie Jackson gives Murdoch a break on lead vocals, and also plays a nice clean guitar progression. The lyrics are the strong part of the song. They are about Jackson missing a meeting with someone (presumably legendary record man Seymour Stein, although the band insists this is just a love song about a girl) There is an organ and some strings as the drums quit and the backing vocal harmonies come in. This is a nice, laid-back, almost lazy song. The final minute, the song takes on a different feel with handclaps and a pulsing piano with strings and organ building. Finally a jet takeoff sound is heard, and that ends the song.
Dirty Dream Number Two
This song is difficult for me to review, but it is amazing. It begins with a drum roll and some wonderful strings. Murdoch's soft vocals enter with the ironic line "I'm lucky I can open the door and walk down the street. Unlucky, I've got no place to go and so I follow my feet." The first verse essentially discribes "the first dream", with some strings and clean quick guitar strums. A horn solo comes in after the description of the first dream. Then Isobel Campbell adds some spoken vocals "In a town so small, there is nothing left to do". The third verse is a description of "dream two" as "Dream two you couldn't see her face, but you saw everything else. Dream two was pretty special, better than loving yourself." There are some backing vocals after the third verse, and they blend wonderfully. The song climaxes with many instruments coming in and creating a great pulsing build up until the song immediately comes to a halt. This is my favorite Belle and Sebastian song.
The Boy With the Arab Strap
The song opens with an electric piano riff, which is soon joined by a bass guitar and handclaps. Murdoch employs his high voice to the song's beautiful melody, "What did you learn from your time in the solitary cell of your mind" There was noises, distractions from anything good. And the old prison food. Colour my life with the chaos of trouble. Cause anything's better than posh isolation. I missed the bus. You were laid on your back. With the boy from the Arab Strap." There is no clear verse/chorus structure, instead there verses simply drop off and lead into a flute solo or piano solo. The song builds up with more instruments, and by the end there are african sounding drums, an organ, and acoustic guitars comprising the music. For the last verse, the music drops out completely, and Murdoch sings acapella as the song slowly fades out.
This is just behind If You're Feeling Sinister
as far as my favorite B&S album. This is a bit lighter and poppier, but overall I don't think they took a step back. The highlights are the songs where Isobel Campbell sings, and also "Dirty Dream Number Two" obviously. I would recommend this album to fans of easy listening or britpop.