Belle and Sebastian
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance


2.8
good

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
January 20th, 2015 | 32 replies


Release Date: 2015 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The Be Here Now of twee.

Although its origin has been debated, the term “the Disease of More” is generally considered to have been coined by noted Los Angeles Lakers/New York Knicks coach and current Miami Heat Sith Lord Pat Riley in his 1988 non-fiction bestseller Showtime. Riley was using the phrase to discuss the problems that crop up in a team attempting to follow a championship year – in his case, the 1980-81 Lakers – with equal success. The problem with reaching the pinnacle of basketball for that supremely talented team, Riley found, was that everyone wanted a greater slice of the pie: more run, more shots, more money. As Riley succinctly put it, “success is often the first step toward disaster.” The Disease of More is not confined to basketball of course; in a consumer-driven society, it has almost become the norm. With the Lakers it was selfish attitudes and a subversion of the team-first play that had led them to the top; for a Wall Street trader it may be a greater, stronger high, finding new ways to enhance returns and snort up the accompanying greater and greater dividends over the weekend. For Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, his symptoms have resulted in Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, an unwieldy record that has a vague idea of where it wants to go and what it wants to be but spends most of its bloated runtime taking so many paths to get there that the end result is a confused mess.

You can see where Murdoch is going with this. Aside from being perhaps his most immediately arresting song, with lyrics that strike at the heart of Murdoch’s lifelong battle with chronic fatigue syndrome and the blossoming of his musical talents, opener “Nobody’s Empire” is a blast of unvarnished power-pop, augmented by swelling instrumentation and an easy melodicism that have been hallmarks of Belle & Sebastian since 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Unlike many of the songs here, you don’t realize that the track runs beyond five minutes, so organic and captivating is the hook and Murdoch’s storytelling. Sadly, “Nobody’s Empire” quickly becomes the exception that proves the rule. Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is a record far more concerned with trying out flashy new costumes for Belle & Sebastian rather than focusing on anything substantial. Consider “Enter Sylvia Plath,” for example, a bouncy disco-flavored hit that has an ABBA-worthy synth line yet stretches incomprehensibly on for nearly seven minutes into a Euro-pop blur, Murdoch’s lyrics buried under a repetitive, thudding groove. “Play for Today” suffers from the same pretensions, burying a simple rhythm under layers and layers of sound, adding and subtracting over the course of seven-and-a-half minutes before retreating into a narcoleptic outro, floating strands of backing vocals and lyrics tossed lazily off between Murdoch and guest vocalist Dee Dee of the Dum Dum Girls. Cuts like your standard mid-tempo B&S numbers “Allie” and “The Book of You” seem haphazardly tacked on to a record that seems intent on building a new identity out of sequins and cheesy Eurovision pop, a wonky guitar solo barely distinguishing the latter at the end, an oddity for the sake of being odd. It’s the musical equivalent of grasping at straws.

Belle & Sebastian have always been a playful band, and Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is, at its best, an eminently entertaining record, one that filters common B&S themes – love, loveliness, a forlorn appreciation for things past – through producer Ben Allen’s gorgeous glitter machine. First single “The Party Line” has the kind of stomp and winking sexual vigor that the rest of the ‘80s-influenced tunes here lack. “The Everlasting Muse,” on the other hand, is deliciously weird in an entirely different, unexpected way, meandering along through a jazzy lounge before locking rigidly into a stridently folksy march. Best of all is “The Cat with the Cream,” a dreamy piece of atmospheric strings and Murdoch’s wisp of a voice that burns slowly, solemnly, allowing the full weight of one of his more politically charged lyrics to sink in, heavy and foreboding. Tracks like these and the general breadth of songwriting on display make it clear that Belle & Sebastian are far from washed up after their long break. Yet Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance never comes across as anything more than a number of different statements, as if Murdoch and company had trouble paring down all the ideas of the past few years and wanted to get it all out now, as if it would be otherwise lost. In trying for everything, they’ve highlighted the disjointedness of the end product, turning a fully-fledged transformation into an erratic collection of middling-to-great Belle & Sebastian songs. For a band that has had trouble articulating a consistent identity for nearly a decade now, at least one thing is clear: more is not always better.



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user ratings (131)
3.1
good
other reviews of this album
AliW1993 (3)
"Be popular, play pop, and you will win my heart."...


Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2015


12202 Comments

Album Rating: 2.8

can't find anything on soundcloud but:



"Nobody's Empire" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rgb8am3NQU0

SowingSeason
Moderator
January 20th 2015


32877 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Such a bland album by a band I typically adore. Good review, though.

Digging: Coldplay - Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends

bluesparrow
January 20th 2015


65 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

The music video version of 'Nobody's Empire' sounds different to the album one, right? It's not just me? It's a shame because the video version moves along at a brisk pace – as you say, the storytelling is so tightly structured that you don't realize that the track runs for so long – but the album one has all sorts of bells and whistles that draw your attention away from Murdoch's lyrics and act as little markers that remind you that the song is progressing for all of its five minutes. Plus they sound a bit gimmicky.



'The Party Line' is solid but otherwise the tracks feel like they began as good ideas that were taken too far, like messing up a nice recipe by experimenting with too many new ingredients at once.



Anyway. Good review. Dear Catastrophe Waitress is still their best.

AliW1993
January 20th 2015


7511 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I agree with most of this, but there are quite a few songs here I'm actually looking forward to hearing live. The reception elsewhere has been rather positive.

klap
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2015


12202 Comments

Album Rating: 2.8

I do think this album would translate better live for the most part

Gyromania
January 20th 2015


29103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Idk tbh, this seems fairly "substantial" to me. I didn't think much of it at first, but multiple listens have revealed a lot of great content. It's much better than their last, despite not being as good as life pursuit.

AliW1993
January 20th 2015


7511 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Write About Love was a solid enough LP but didn't have many real standouts. This one's uneven but has some real gems. I'd probably rather have that than another so-so effort.

Gyromania
January 20th 2015


29103 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this probably doesn't work as well as an album, but as you say, some real gems. however, i feel like the flow was kind of awkward on write about love as well as this, although admittedly easier to digest. i don't expect anyone else on sputnik to enjoy it as much as me (prob going to up my rating, might even review it to give a different perspective)

Brostep
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2015


4484 Comments


spelled the album name wrong in p2 but otherwise gd rev as always

klap
Staff Reviewer
January 20th 2015


12202 Comments

Album Rating: 2.8

i wants to dance

adr
January 20th 2015


12033 Comments


i bet this is shitty as the cover tbh

robin
Emeritus
January 20th 2015


4594 Comments


absolutely amazing summary

psandy
January 21st 2015


280 Comments


agreed on just about everything. great write up too. Just started getting back into these guys, shame since I thought Write About Love was a huge step in the right direction

NorthernSkylark
January 21st 2015


9571 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

if you find yourself caught in dance

Digging: John Grant - Queen Of Denmark

SharkTooth
January 21st 2015


14137 Comments


damn, nice review, especially the opening paragraph

ProjectFreak
January 21st 2015


3992 Comments


Klap, this is a wonderful review, but this sounds almost exactly like what I'd want in a B&S record

Tunaboy45
January 21st 2015


16811 Comments


Yeah nice review

klap
Staff Reviewer
January 21st 2015


12202 Comments

Album Rating: 2.8

this has gotten some pretty positive reception elsewhere project so you should def check it out

Aids
January 21st 2015


24460 Comments


Miami Heat Sith Lord Pat Riley



Aids
January 21st 2015


24460 Comments


I seriously don't understand how all of your reviews are this high quality. It's almost like you know how to write or something.



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