Belle & Sebastian
Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance Album Review
January 20, 2015
Genre: Indie Pop, Baroque Pop, Dance Pop, Synth Pop
It’s fair to say that after nearly two decades and nine full length records, Belle and Sebastian know their way around a pop song or two. More appropriately now than ever with recent controversies surrounding the glitter-bomb indulgences of the GRAMMYs, the integrity of pop music is on trial and everyone’s the jury. The main offence being the inconsistency. Pop stars come and go, the ‘unbeatable’ number ones become vague memories and Superbowl halftime shows, despite their million dollar investments, sink into the shadows of Twitter timelines. This is where B&S have prospered, they are the consistent pop band and even on their ninth, I can’t see this disappointing the fans.
The opening line of “Nobody’s Empire” hears Stuart Mardoch, in his typical baroque storytelling tones, sing “Lying on my bed I was reading french / With the light too bright for my senses”. While yes, it further cements B&S as the most twee band that ever dared to croon, it also opens the gates thematically to Mardoch’s CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), something Girls in Peacetime refers back to often. The feeling of crippling tiredness and the sensation of being buried under the weight of helplessness isolation is touched on throughout, blanketed by expertly written and diverse synth pop. It might sound a jarring juxtaposition in concept but actually Peacetime isn’t a sombre record – it celebrates resolve in the expected playful demeanour, after all, B&S understand the restorative powers of music better than most.
Some really uplifting moments stem from the track “Allie” where the Glaswegians deal with the cruel state of contemporary pressures and political turmoils and how the repercussions of these echo far louder on the inside of this Allie character. This is something I appreciate more in B&S music as I get older is the animations of themes through characters, whether or not they’re imaginary isn’t the point – the longevity of this band is driven by their remarkably authentic sentiments.
That said, it’s easy to get swept up in the romanticism of it all. Peacetime isn’t the perfect record. It harnesses some darker themes to propel more convincing Indie pop but this doesn’t forgive how overdrawn this record is at times. Lead single ‘Party Line’ was a not so subtle tell that B&S had bought into the recent ‘disco is cool right now’ motif. It’s fun lasts the entirety of the first listen and ends right there; even the more galloping synth-led cuts like ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ lose their lustre after a few rounds. In fact, the engaging moments of this record come from the more familiar routes and phrasings like the way the rich double bass and slow jazz rhythms of ‘The Everlasting Muse’ change into this great foot stomping sea shanty chorus – one of my, now, fondest Belle and Sebastian junctures.
Guilty of sacrificing incisive structures for more drawn out and dense tracks, Peacetime could have been just as effective had it shed 20 minutes of excess fat. The long instrumentals are not the enticing factor to be considered here but rather Mardoch’s lyricism and sentiments of overcoming numbing adversity. While Peacetime’s takeaway maybe the realisation that ‘Everything is Terrible’, I guess this would be the sweetest way to find out.
FAV TRACKS: Nobody’s Empire, Allie, The Everlasting Muse
LEAST FAV TRACKS: Ever Had a Little Faith?