Album Review: Belle & Sebastian – Belle and Sebastian Write About Love

by Marie Carney on October 11, 2010

Belle & Sebastian is not the kind of band that jumps out and grabs your attention, instead they plant a seed which needs time to grow.  When my friend gave me the spectacular If Your Feeling Sinister in 1997 it was with the promise that I would listen to it at least five times in the background before I gave it my full attention.  He was right; it haunted me, it seeped into my soul, and I loved it.  So now I’ve spent two weeks with Belle & Sebastian Write about Love their newest effort, and I can’t say that same feeling of love and musical bliss has washed over me.  Though I keep waiting and hoping it will.

It is the norm for a Belle & Sebastian record to begin with a quieter number, but album opener “I Didn’t See it Coming,” after 20 seconds of ambient noise, is actually pretty chipper.  In a way, this is the first place the album goes a bit wrong.  The song is sweet, but not spectacular, with Sarah Martin taking the lead vocal, Stuart Murdoch coming in later on harmony.  I miss their old first track formula where the song at first seems boring, and mixed much too quietly, but then as the lyrics really start to sink in you are taken into a lovely dark world.  And maybe that’s the real problem, this song is an example of what is come:  slightly better than average, relatively cheerful pop songs.

That’s not to say there aren’t some shining moments on the album.  For me they come in the two truly upbeat numbers.  First is “I Want the World to Stop” which sounds a bit like it could have come from somewhere between Fold Your Hands Child and Dear Catastrophe Waitress.  It’s the sound and feeling I expect from a Belle & Sebastian record, and, as the fourth song on the album, it comes just in time.  But the real shining moment, and the biggest surprise, is the title track “Write About Love” featuring Carey Mulligan (yes, the actress of An Education/Wall Street).  She has the typical Stuart Murdoch endorsed light high voice, nothing spectacular, but the song is such a fun 60’s styled romp you just can’t help turning it up and dancing about. 

But for everything great on this album, there seems to be something just as disappointing.  The first sour moment for me is the other “featuring” song.  This one is a banal, plodding pop number called “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John”  featuring Norah Jones.  I am relatively confident in saying there isn’t a lot of overlap in their fan bases.  Personally, if I wanted to hear a boring song sung by Norah Jones I would buy one of her albums, but maybe that’s just me.  Even more disappointing though is the one and only Stevie Jackson led song “I’m Not Living in the Real World.”  Usually I love the Stevie numbers, I would even say some of his songs are in my favourites are his, but not this one.  It is oddly arranged and full of awkward changes.  Sadness.

If you are a Belle & Sebastian fan, of course you should pick up the album.  You’ll love at least three songs, and maybe after 10-15 listens you’ll love even more.  However, if you’re new to the Belle & Sebastian catalogue, this is not the place to start.  The album is not focused or consistent.  You’re best off picking up an early album and listening to it at least five times in the background.

Song to Download:  “I Want the World to Stop”

Song to Skip When Shuffling:  “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John”

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony October 13, 2010 at 10:03 am

I really quite like this album. I’m not a huge fan so perhaps I have different expectations. I REALLY like the first song a lot and didn’t notice any duds during my listens.

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Gordon Elgart October 14, 2010 at 4:33 pm

I’ve gotta say, I disagree with you big time on the quality of the first track. I think it’s tremendous. What I like about it is that Stuart really takes a back seat on the song, but they lead off the record with it. That tells me it’s going to be a “band” record, and not dominated by him.

Also, the rhythm line is oh-so-tasty.

I’m totally with you on the Norah Jones thing, though. Skip it!

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Dakin October 15, 2010 at 1:37 am

What’s up with all the Norah Jones hating? That song is great! And after seeing her twice this year, I’ve determined that Norah Jones has no specific fan base. It’s kind of a random hodge podge of people. (A surprising number of neck tattoos, though) Although, I think that she could sing the phonebook and I’d swoon.

And I really like “I Didn’t See It Coming,” which also has an ironically named title, considering the traditional Belle & Sebastian opening tracks.

But, in whole, I think I like this record more than The Life Pursuit.

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Marie Carney October 18, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Oh the first track… I have to admit it’s grown on me since I wrote the review, especially after seeing it live.
Truth be told I am biased because 1) I find Sarah’s voice off-putting and 2) a prefer a darker Belle & Sebastian sound as that was the band I fell in love with.

And I’m not taking back anything I said about Norah Jones! 😛

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