Belle and Sebastian broke my heart. Seriously. When I was a senior at Cleveland High School, I used to walk around Ladd’s Addition during my study hall period listening to Belle and Sebastian and dreaming of the day when I’d leave high school and join the ranks of the poor, overeducated romantics that populated Belle and Sebastian songs. And when I was bored, I would write terrible short stories about characters that were saved by the band’s music. And I used to troll the Belle and Sebastian message board looking for girls to meet who loved B and S as much as I did.
Well, talk about B and S. Besides finding out that the world of Belle and Sebastian was pure, childish fiction, I soon had to endure 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, an album that felt like a parody of everything I liked about the band. The songs sounded cheeky instead of witty, and the melancholy seemed more forced than natural. But despite all this, there were a few tracks on the album, like “I’m A Cuckoo,” that I just couldn’t stop listening to. Those songs had zero to tell me about my life but, damn it, they were catchy.
And that’s pretty much all you can reasonably expect from B and S nowadays: really amazing pop music. While some may think that’s more than enough, I’m still disappointed.
Looking at the CD booklet of The Life Pursuit, it’s hard to believe this is the same band that refused to do interviews or be photographed. The first six or seven pages of the booklet are devoted to a Q and A off the band’s internet message board that sucks all the remaining mystique right out of the group. Scattered throughout the booklet are pictures of three really hot Scottish models dressed as schoolgirls. To me, this sums up the latter-day Belle and Sebastian: beautiful pop for beautiful people. The lyrics are full of references to girls with “pretty faces” and “A1 bodies” who are “easy on the eye.” What kind of message does this send? That if you’re not young or cute, you don’t belong in the world of Belle and Sebastian? I can’t help but think this superficial attitude was the band’s M.O. all along and I just missed it.
Musically, The Life Pursuit has some wonderful moments like the Bowie-esque rocker “The Blues Are Still Blue,” the jangle pop of “Another Sunny Day” and the gorgeous chamber pop of “Dress Up In You,” and in one sense that makes it quite a good album. In fact, song for song, The Life Pursuit is better than Dear Catastrophe Waitress and Stuart Murdoch’s pop chops are as strong as ever. But for anyone who used to be in love with Belle and Sebastian, the thrill and the emotion are gone. All the bookworms who thought Belle and Sebastian were the second coming of The Smiths are just going to have to find someone else to worship because B and S is now just pretty
music for pretty people – the kind of people who wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with the rest of us losers.