This new album from Belle & Sebastian firmly cements their place as a pop band. But it wasn’t always so. When they first emerged on the indie scene in the UK, they were a breath of fresh air in a world dominated by commercial dance music compilations, out comes this band from nowhere who wrote folky songs which sounded like they should have been released in the 1960s. What clinched the deal for many was the fact that the band were able to produce such happy sounding music yet the lyrics were as melancholy as one could get.
The Life Pursuit comes on the heels of ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’, their first real foray into the pop world. In many respects one could view this album as a continuation. But this is where the similarities end. Where ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ brought about a breath of fresh air into the pop-rock single and brought the name Belle & Sebastian to the forefront of the music scene, ‘The Life Pursuit’ feels tired, lazy and unsure of its direction. While the songs are not bad in themselves, they are not great either which is what many have come to expect from the band.
Perhaps this main criticism stems from the fact that many of the lyrics seem not to fit into the song structure. The singer is often pushing the music to its limits to make sure that the line fits. This sounds like the band hasn’t tried hard enough. But there is also a range of songs on display which suggests to me that the band are unsure of their direction. 1960s pop, Stevie Wonder inspired songs, even a song which wouldn’t sound out of place on Primal Scream’s ‘Scremadelica’. What is their direction? I don’t know and it seems that the band don’t know either. So we have an eclectic collection of musical genres in one album.
The single ‘The Blues are still Blue’ is perhaps the greatest example of what I am trying to tell you. The way the singer sings ‘Laund-er-ette’ is just cringe inducing, whilst the chorus feels like the singer is 5 years old and listing all the colours that he knows. ‘Sukie in the Graveyard’ is a great song but coming from Belle & Sebastian feels bizarre. The singer seems to have transformed himself into a rock star and sings in a contrived way. It again for me exemplifies the feeling that the band were unsure with this record. ‘We are Sleepyheads’ sounds like a TV theme tune from itv in the 1970s. Pants is the only word which springs to mind. ‘Frog in my Throat’ is a great pop song ruined by the fact that the singer is unable to sing throat properly, preferring ‘throw-ittt’ to make sure that it fitted the music.
There are some good songs on display. It’s just that they sound wrong in this format, having been bunched together on this album. The album would be briefly enjoyable for Belle & Sebastian fans who will no doubt buy it and even think I am being too harsh. However, while you know that ‘Tigermilk’ and even ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ will regularly be played, in a few months time, this record will slip to the bottom of the pile and only occasionally be brought out for a spin. Let’s hope that next time, Belle & Sebastian are more inspired.