Aside from Matt Hancock’s PPE-supplying mates or the local Downing Street Oddbins, few seem to have experienced a lockdown glow-up like veteran indie-pop septet Belle and Sebastian. When the pandemic derailed their plans to travel to Los Angeles in 2020 to work on their first full album in seven years (discounting their 2019 Days Of The Bagnold Summer film soundtrack), they ended up staying in Glasgow, with ‘A Bit of Previous’ becoming their first album recorded in their home city since 2000’s ‘Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant’. From these initially challenging circumstances has emerged some of their most vivid songwriting in years.
Whereas their 1996 debut ‘Tigermilk’ cast Belle and Sebastian in the public’s imagination as the eternal school kids luxuriating in juvenilia, their 10th studio album candidly grapples with getting older. Violin-led nostalgic opener ‘Young and Stupid’ sees frontman Stuart Murdoch sing “Now we’re old with creaking bones / some with partners, some alone” over a gorgeous, buoyant melody. Guitarist Steve Jackson contributes the country waltz ‘Deathbed Of My Dreams’, looking through life’s smeared rear-view mirror with Stetson-donning tobacco-chewing charm, while the jazzy ‘Come On Home’ (“Give a chance to the old / Set the record straight for the welfare state / Give a chance to the young / Everyone deserves a life in the sun”) feels like indie-pop’s elders anointing their younger successors.
Musically, it’s full of universally lovely melodies and earworm choruses, from the Burt Bacharach-style ‘If They’re Shooting At You’ (with proceeds going to those affected by the conflict in Ukraine) to the wistful ‘Do It For Your Country’, the harmonica-led AOR of ‘Unnecessary Drama’ and the fizzing disco-chintz of ‘Talk To Me Talk To Me’, which sounds like something Norway might enter to Eurovision in 1985. Best of all is the Sarah Martin-sung ‘Reclaim the Night’. Over stark synths, it’s naggingly addictive pop houses passionate lyrics that seem to channel the ever-looming dread and righteous anger over women’s safety in the wake of Sarah Everard’s murder in 2021, with Martin urging: “Reclaim the night, don’t lose another / This time the world demands an explanation“.
‘A Bit of Previous’ takes its album title from the Buddhist notion of reincarnation – that you may already have ‘previous’ with people you meet – and there’s a similarly comforting familiarity to the album. All of the well-worn Belle and Sebastian hallmarks are present, but what’s truly impressive is how effortless it all sounds this time around.
Release date: May 6
Record label: Matador Records