79 — [Rating Scale]
Belle & Sebastian have been away for a while. It’s been four years since their last album, which can seem like an eternity in the fast-paced world of modern music. On Belle & Sebastian Write About Love it’s easy to tell that the time was not wasted. The record seems meticulously crafted to be easy to listen to. Almost each song is accessible, free and catchy, without sacrificing instrumental complexity or becoming boring after a few listens. However, while the songs are often effortlessly pleasant, the final product is not one that will change your life.
Album opener “I Didn’t See It Coming” is a breezy song that seems to foster forgotten familiarity. It’s just one of those songs you feel like you must have heard somewhere before, even if you most certainly haven’t. I personally went so far as googling the lyrics. “Make me dance, I want to surrender” is undoubtedly one of the strongest points of the entire record and it sets the pace for the rest of the album.
Although Belle & Sebastian is often initially characterized as a kind of indie-folk outfit, that categorization would be unfair simply because it gives no indication of their mastery of a wide range of electronic elements. Most of the songs here have an understated buzz of a synthesizer or a delicate use of reverb and echoes that really add to the overall sound and texture that is the final product. Combined with their signature elements of guitars, strings and horns they are able to consistently create compelling soundscapes.
The title track, “Write About Love,” featuring actress Carey Mulligan, is a standout both sonically and lyrically. Compellingly retro sounding, with alternating explosions of sound and an understated bass riff and a sweeping chorus, the song sounds like a hit. It captures the search for an escape from the mundanity of an office job explicitly clearly (“I hate my job” is the opening phrase of the chorus).
However, as the album progresses the impending feeling that all the songs sound the same begins to set in. This is interesting because they keep the instrumentals refreshingly unique throughout. However, it’s the songwriting that creates the effect of similar and prevailing emotions. Sometimes strong themes and singular emotions can strengthen and unify an album, but the emotions here are just not strong enough to bolster an entire record. “Love is like a novel,” Stuart Murdoch sings on "Read the Blessed Pages,” and it’s that kind of vague metaphor that comes up too often on the album.
Belle & Sebastian are writing about love, but it’s often a wistful and static kind of love, with not too much to pay attention to. The ideas in the lyrics aren’t new. This doesn’t necessarily detract from the album, but instead makes it an album that is perfect to throw on almost any time, not one that you are engrossed by. It is beautifully crafted and lovely to listen to, but don’t get that confused with a classic.
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