Belle and Sebastian Write About Love begins with a long fade-in into a hazy trance meets disco “I Didn’t See It Coming.” It sounds like Nick Drake joined Wings and wrote a song for their introverted niece’s prom. Then again that’s always how Belle and Sebastian sound, but in this song the singer pleads “make me dance/ I want to surrender” over and over like he really wants to dance and the hooks are smoothed and rarefied by the hand of a craftsman.
It’s always good when an album starts on a high note and I appreciate when a vocalist with Belle and Sebastian, other than Stuart Murdoch, sings on-key (I’m looking at you Isobel Campbell and Stevie Jackson). The downside to setting such a pleasing tone is that it is quite difficult to maintain. B&S give it their best effort: “I Want The World To Stop” sounds a lot like The Cure’s “Lovesong” if it featured Johnny Marr’s shining guitars. It would have been at home on The Life Pursuit. “The Ghost of Rockschool” with its beatific, repetitive refrain about seeing God in everything, sounds like an outtake from The Boy With The Arab Strap.
The rest of the album, however, lacks the same caliber of excellence and parts of it sink to mucky depths. The Stevie Jackson penned “I’m Not Living in the Real World” comes across more as some music theory experiment than the cohesive sing-along pop song it tries to be. With inane lyrics, almost (but not quite) catchy “woo-oohs” and more key changes than a locksmith onThorazine, this shows why Stuart Murdoch should always wear the captain’s hat.
“Little Lou, Ugly jack, Prophet John” could have stayed merely boring and twee but by the time that Norah Jones yawns her easy-jazz-vocal-vomit, the album succumbs to its worst moments. Carey Mulligan doesn’t do much better on the title track though I appreciate Murdoch screwing with the formula a bit by bringing in different guests. One of these days his efforts might just pay off like it did on thebarn burner “Lazy Line Painter Jane” with Monica Queen.
All in all, Belle and Sebastian Write About Love stays true to its title and the trajectory that Belle and Sebastian have been on since day one. Things are mixed up a little, as they have been for the last few albums. Some may pine for the earlier, “sinister” days or await the day when the band goes all out gospel disco (as it seems it might) but for the majority of fans that have grown accustom to songs about misfits, religion and books, this album will hit the spot.