Belle and Sebastian
Dear Catastrophe Waitress
he problem with Belle and Sebastian is that they seem, moreso than any other bands, to lend themselves to a kind of Vietnam-vet style “You weren’t there man” from the fans who were there from the start. Belle and Sebastian haven’t really aided matters by increasing their fame, and decreasing their worth, with each subsequent album. Not to comply with the indier-than-thou crowd, because Fold Your Hands… and Storytelling both had more worth than the majority of “Look! I’ve read a book!” hack bands that followed in their wakes, but… there has always been a desire for a new ...Sinister, which has so far failed to materialise.
So, they’ve decided to change. Stuart David and Isobel Campbell have both gone (thankfully, in the second’s case, with her being the Linda of the act), and Trevor Horn dragged on board, to spark no doubt hilarious conversations on music bulletin boards about his glasses in the video for “Video Killed The Radio Star”. With all these changes, it always did seem as though Dear Catastrophe Waitress would be the put up or shut up album for B&S. Do they still have “it”?
Of course they do.
Horn’s impact on this album is minimal, having seemingly used up all his big ideas with Russian jailbait. But the main thrust of Belle and Sebastian has seemingly moved away from the Morrissey-goes-Northern-Soul-dancing thrust of their earlier work, and in its place comes influences seemingly from The Police (“Stay Loose” tea leafs the bassline from “Walking On The Moon”), Thin Lizzy “I’m A Cuckoo” (a deranged homage to Phil Lynott, even name-checking his band for those too stupid to realise how much like “Boys Are Back In Town” it sounds), and, strangely enough, Sir Cliff Richard (just listen to “Wrapped Up In Books”).
Belle and Sebastian haven’t so much changed as evolved. Classic Belle and Sebastian themes still remain (“If You Find Yourself Caught In Love”’s blaming of a single woman’s lack of romantic activity on her being an atheist is classic Murdoch, more so than “Lord Anthony”’s tale of school bully vengeance, despite the latter being more closely associated with the boys), but the fog appears to have been lifted from the band. Murdoch spent seven years of severe illness in the late 80s/early 90s, an experience that appears to have coloured most of his work to date, and only now it seems that he’s finally checked himself out.
“Piazza, New York Catcher” is one of the weirdest named tracks on the album, causing anyone from outside the 52 states to ask “what did you say?”. Apparently, he’s some US variant of Roberto Di Matteo, and we’ll just leave it at that. But the track’s naming does seem to strike as a deliberate attempt by Murdoch to bring something new to the B&S camp, to get themselves away from what is a (admittedly partially media created) image of English literature students writing their favourite poems down in pretty notebooks and watching Bod DVDs. They’re worth more than that, and they’re beginning to show it again.
Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2003-10-06