We first got word of a new Belle & Sebastian album via the live version of “I Didn’t See It Coming,” back in July. B&S hadn’t released their own studio album since 2006 — 2009’s God Help The Girl project used all of the band, but a bunch of different vocalists. But the real anticipation came via the band’s teaser video for “I Want The World To Stop,” an airy, summery track with back-and-forth verses between Stuart Murdoch and the rest of the band. Turns out that song caps a rich and witty Side A to Belle & Sebastian Write About Love. The second half, however, loses momentum, and succumbs to the same doldrums B&S spend so much time lamenting.
The album starts with the Sarah Martin-led “I Didn’t See It Coming,” which, with its “We don’t have no money / Forget about it honey,” kicks off a small, but familiar theme, dealing with the small cruelties of everyday life — shitty jobs, airless offices, too much street noise. These annoyances form the background to the fantasies and daydreams that are at the songs’ core. “>Come On Sister,” is the bubbling, keyboard-led, Murdoch song second track. “It’s fun / thinking of you like a movie star / and it’s dumb / thinking of you as the way you are,” he sings, half dreaming of an idealized girl and half happy with the one he’s got.
But pointing out that this album includes a lot of staring out of windows with your hand on your chin is like pointing out that B&S are Scottish. “Calculating Bimbo” crosses from wistful to wispy, but, like one of Murdoch’s imaginary girls, gets by on sheer prettiness. But things improve with “I Want The World To Stop”’s beautiful echoing harmonies. “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” featuring Norah Jones, sounds so much like one of Jones’s own sleepy, bittersweet songs that Murdoch seems to preview her phrasing when he sings “What a waste / I could have been your lovah.” The next guest spot belongs to Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan on “Write About Love.” She sings about a boring office job over luxe strings and organ that reflect her inner life rather than her outer one, where the most exciting thing she gets to do is take her lunch break on her building’s roof. “I’m Not Living In The Real World” is the last of the standouts, with an opening that sounds like a laid-back Who outtake, right down to the stuttering Keith Moon fills and high, bright harmonies.
From there, Belle & Sebastian Talk About Love is basically a bowl of lotion, pleasant and smooth, until closer “Sunday’s Pretty Icons,” which begins with a sunny guitar hook. As they’ve so often done, B&S show that writing about love is really writing about waiting for love, and sometimes waiting can be pretty dull.
Belle & Sebastian Write About Love is out 10/12 via Rough Trade internationally, Matador stateside.