Belle & Sebastian : Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Seductively charismatic and packed full of tunes

The great thing about Glasgow’s B&S is how many people hate them. The tweeness, the indie unambitiousness, the simpering voice and ‘having a thing’ about cuddly toys has inspired the many a mild mannered music fans to demand chief singer/songwriter Stuart Murdoch’s head be impaled on a spike outside branches of Hello Kitty as a warning.

But beyond this two-dimensional image – which to be fair the band hasn’t done much to dispel – there’s always beaten a hefty heart of delicious contradictions. Sweet music camouflages barbed misanthropic lyrics, back to basics instrumentation contrasts with acute internet saviness and best of all despite fiercely avoiding the media, they won a Brit Award in 1999.

However departing band members have shown cracks in the once bullet-proof band their albums have become increasing mired in indieness verging on self parody. Further, the strident democracy of the band has taken its toll. Charming and egalitarian though this is, the creeping presence of non-Murdoch songs on latter albums has led to frustratingly inconsistent albums. Increasingly it was as if ‘Day In The Life’ and ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ had been left off Sgt. Pepper to make room for Ringo’s ‘Toot Toot Goes The Happy Train’ and ‘I’m Scouse Me, Calm Down’. But that’s band democracy for you.

However these problems have vanished on their sixth. Undoubtedly installing Trevor Horn, the producer of Tatu and Frank Goes To Hollywood, appealed to Murdoch’s sense of humour and mischief but it’s also brought new life to the album without resorting to lesbo schoolgirl action. And more importantly Stuart’s back in control.

So it’s old school business as usual. But better. There’s the string-driven hymn to fey clumsiness ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’, ‘I’m A Cuckoo’’s breezey allure masks a song about lost love however the title alone of B&S by numbers, ‘Wrapped Up In Books’ will get you reaching for the spike sharpener.

Two songs stand out, ‘Lord Anthony’ typically comes on as tale of the smart boy beaten to a pulp at school. And then as he dreams of escape with patience and tenderness it’s revealed he has a secret: “Tony you’re a bit of a mess/Melted Tolberone under your dress”.

Meanwhile in album closer ‘Stay Loose’ they’ve got one of their greatest songs ever, being innovative, funky, and twinkling with subtle electronica. It thrums with a newly found confidence that points to a great future.

In under an hour B&S have reversed their decline, producing an album that ranks alongside ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’. Seductively charismatic and packed full of tunes – looks like the Hello Kitty store’s going to remain unadorned.

Anthony Thornton

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