B&S bounce back on latest LP

by Kate Carolan | 10/23/03 5:00am

Belle and Sebastian's fifth album, "Dear Catastrophe Waitress," is the band's attempt to emerge from the black hole to which they had been relegated by the most hardcore of indie rock critics after the disappointments of their third and fourth albums, "The Boy with the Arab Strap" and "Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant."

"Dear Catastrophe Waitress" luckily doesn't have the same inconsistencies and disjointedness that plagued the group's most recent albums, but it is not a return to their "Tigermilk" days either. This time around, the band worked with producer Trevor Horn, who focused the band's energy to create the classic pop-rock sound that is captured on this album.

This album -- far removed from the Scottish band's first garage-style low-budget whimsical production -- is characterized by a lot more instrumentation. The sound is not quite so natural and beautifully unrefined as that of "Tigermilk," but instead possesses a charm of its own.

The one aspect that is carried over from the early albums, and is perhaps Belle and Sebastian's hallmark is the whispy, delicate, Nick Drake-like vocals of lead singer Stuart Murdoch. It's this quality that allows listeners to immediately identify it as the work of the Glaswegian 7-member band.

The album has a bit of a classic rock feel to it. It captures the sounds of some of the more outlandish bands like The Kinks, Queen, Chicago and Electric Light Orchestra. Belle and Sebastian's lyrics on this album are very fun, fanciful, and in some cases, even nonsensical.

The opener, "Step into my Office, Baby" is a playful song about an affair with a boss that makes a jab at original Spice Girl, Margaret Thatcher. The lyrics of this song are fun, and the beat is catchy, which makes it an ideal song to kick off the album. In this song the band experiments with a variety of sounds and styles.

The third song, "If She Wants Me" is considerably slower and mellower than the first two songs and has funky chords and a sort of jive about it. This song is perhaps the closest the album comes to having a song with meaningful, coherent lyrics that come across to the listener without too much need for creative interpretation.

The middle of the album is the dead spot on the album. "Piazza, New York Catcher" is a good song lyrically, but musically leaves something to be desired. It's just simple acoustic guitar and just comes across as pretty ordinary. The lyrics, which are amusing to follow, are lost in the repetitive guitar chords. "Asleep on a Sunbeam" takes some interesting approaches to the music itself, but isn't anything to write home about. It's not a bad song, but it just doesn't stand out the same way many of the other songs on the album do.

Track nine, "Lord Anthony," is definitely one of the highlights of the album. It's a very chill and moody song. It begins with some baroque-sounding horns which are a neat touch and correspond with the title of the song. The song is about a kid who gets bullied for being smart and different, and is essentially the anthem for all indie rockers who themselves caught flak in middle school.

Loyal Belle and Sebastian fans should be pleased with the progress the band has made to arrive at this album, despite the questionable quality of their other recent efforts. New listeners will appreciate the band's unique sound, and I think everyone will value the huge variability in the album itself- no two songs sound alike. Even people who criticized Belle and Sebastian's earlier work should appreciate the uniqueness of this album and its ability to progress musically from the first album, without the inconsistency they experienced before.

CD Courtesy of The Dartmouth Bookstore.