Belle and Sebastian might have been born out of a love for 80s indie – The Smiths, Orange Juice, Felt, and the like – but deep down they are 70s pop kids. ‘The Life Pursuit’, the bands 7th album, includes dashes of glam and T-Rex boogie, bubblegum and country rock.
And maybe it had something to do with recording the album in LA, but it’s also a soulful affair, and the influences of the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Roy Ayers and Sly & the Family Stone abound.
But Belle and Sebastian are not simply trying to recapture the past; they use these sounds to embellish their tales of misadventure; stories about misfits, losers and those unlucky in love. We, therefore, have ‘For The Price Of A Cup Of Tea’ – as sunny as the Spinners – with its story of a woman ‘always exotic and aloof’ worried about village gossip; and ‘White Collar Boy’ – a glam beat, synth bass, and call-and-response vocals – with its account of small-time criminals.
In ‘The Blues Are Still Blue’, singer Stuart Murdoch might be doing his best Marc Bolan impersonation, but the lyrics are pure Belle and Sebastian.
‘Look at the kid from school
He’s teaching mamas and papas how to be a little cool
He’s changing fashion, the way he dress
The tracksuits are old, and the hoody’s way too moody
For a kid with the will to funk
He dances in secret; he’s a part-time punk’
We also meet ‘Sukie In The Graveyard’, the tale of another outsider, played over choppy organ, a shuffling beat, and churning bass:
‘Sukie was the kid, she liked to hang out at the art school
She didn’t enroll, but she wiped the floor with all the arseholes’
In a recent ‘Uncut’ article, Stuart Murdoch selected an early Orange Juice single as the most significant pop artifact of the last fifty years. In ‘We Are The Sleepyheads’ he gets to pay homage to his indie heroes with some very funky rhythm guitar (and, of course, Orange Juice were channeling their own heroes of Motown and 70s soul). The track also features a scorching guitar solo that wouldn’t be out of place on a Thin Lizzy album.
‘Song For Sunshine’ opens with some Stevie Wonder clavinet, before drifting into a chorus that references the Roy Ayers’ hit ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’. The lyrics here are very un-Belle and Sebastian, surprisingly naïve, with tongue almost certainly out-of-cheek.
‘Sunshine, we all see the same sky
Looking, learning, asking the same ‘why?’
Unfortunately, ‘The Life Pursuit’ doesn’t change the fact that there is no perfect Belle and Sebastian album. Opening track ‘Act Of The Apostle’ is unnecessarily reprised later in the album, and ‘Mornington Crescent’ is a drab closing song.
This is, nevertheless, a strong addition to the Belle and Sebastian canon – an increasingly interesting collection of material, from poorly recorded, sloppily played indie pop to the glossy, genre straddling fare of the last two records.
‘The Life Pursuit’ probably won’t change your life, but it’ll make it a little sunnier, and it might even get you dancing.