Thursday, November 10, 2005

Belle & Sebastian: 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress'

A new Belle and Sebastian album is looming close on the horizon, and judging from the couple of new songs I heard at Across the Narrows, it's going to continue with the style they created on their previous album 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress.' Even though I love their early stuff, I'd say that DCW is by far their best album, one of those really special pieces of pop, where every song is brilliant and just listening to it really makes me smile, something that none of their previous albms, no matter how good, can do.

The album kicks off with 'Step into My Office Baby,' a fantastically cheesy song that consists of a series of offce work related double entendres, such as the chrous:

"We need to talk
Step into my office, baby
I’m going to give you the job
I’m pushing for a raise
I’ve been pushing now for days"

The lyrics are fun and playful in a way that none of their songs prior were, just going so far over the top you can't help but laugh, and the music backing it all is great as well, with a nice drum pattern and some cool backup vocal stuff on the middle "I'm a slave to work..." section.

After this great opening they segue into the title track, which is a bit darker, but nicely backed by a driving string line. I love the way that B&S work a lot of instruments into their songs. The strings make this song work. After that is the laid back "If She Wants Me," which has a great chorus and a nice happy, but resigned feel.

"Piazza New York Catcher" is more in line with their early stuff, a song where the lyrics are the main focus, and are backed by acoustic guitar work. It's a funny song, with the great line, "Piazza New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay," one of those really witty things that they manage to work into their songs. I like the fact that you can listen a B&S song either as a great musical piece, or if you single out the lyrics, most of their songs tell an interesting story.

On this album they've embraced a 60s pop feel. Some of their EP stuff flirts with it, like Dog on Wheels, but the closest predecessor to this is 'Legal Man,' with its 60s spy movie feel. 'Asleep on a Sunbeam' definitely has the hippie pop feel, with one of the few vocal contributions from Isobel.

Next up is one of the album's best tracks, a near perfect pop track, 'I'm a Cuckoo.' It's not a particularly retro feel here, it's just an upbeat, well constructed song. I love before the chorus when Stuart has a long line of words to fit into a small space, and the instrumental section after the end of each chorus is great as well. It's a joy to listen to.

Next up is 'You Don't Send Me,' another strong track, followed by 'Wrapped Up in Books,' which I love. The ascending scales after the title lyric are great. 'Lord Anthony' follows, which is the most old style B&S track on the album, but it really works here. I love the story of the song and the light instrumentation. The lyrics have a very unique flow, constructing sentences in a way different from virtually any other band I've come across. The highlight here is the end of the track.

My second favorite song from the album is 'If You Find Yourself Caught in Love,' which is so over the top joyous it's unbelievable. The lyrics here are great, twisting the typical "I'm alone and sad" emo thing into a really upbeat happy anthemic song. The 60s style echo backing vocals are great, and for such a poppy song, the lyrics are interesting as well. So, check this one out, it's genius.

It's followed by Roy Walker which is also retro feeling, but a bit more country. It's another great track, with the questing chorus and excellent horns throughout. And the album ends with its best song, "Stay Loose." Here they move from 60s style to 80s style, with some keyboards and vocal distortion. It's unlike any song they've done and is one of those great album closing tracks that hints at the potential of what the band could be. I love everything about this song, the way the band enters on the chorus, and best of all, the great guitar soloes at the middle and end of the track. It's one of those songs where you just don't want it to end.

There's really not a bad song on this album, and there's some extraordinary ones. I love the blend of poppy sound and structure with the really complex, interesting lyrics, and the full, varied instrumental backing. Busting out strings and horns is always great, and it really works well here to create some fantastic songs. While I love their other albums, this new incarnation of Belle and Sebastian is an improvement on the old.

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