Belle & Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Peter Paphides finds that despite the help of former Frankie Goes To Hollywood producer Trevor Horn, there is still a human warmth to the band
The mind boggles at the idea of Belle And Sebastian in the studio with Trevor Horn. When Trevor Horn was making Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s crap demos sound like a Wagnerian prolapse, Stuart Murdoch’s Glasgow years had yet to commence. He was holed up in Ayr, nurturing his adoration for Edwyn Collins and Morrissey. So what could the last living purveyors of arts-and-crafts indie values want from a man whose production technique involves sending the band home and building the song around a naked vocal track —
Should any fans need reassurance at this point, it should be pointed out that Horn was as good as his word. No musicians were sent home during the making of Dear Catastrophe Waitress —
While Campbell revels in the freedom of solo artistry, Belle And Sebastian’s sixth album draws deeper from a familiar spring. The Glasgow that Murdoch writes about is probably no more or less real a place than the Manchester you find in Smiths albums. A backdrop for endless cafe conversations between people who suspect the world is passing them by. On ‘Roy Walker’, he sings, ‘I’ve been here for years/Just wandering around the neighbourhood’. Murdoch’s best trait is his ability to empty any given moment of detail until you too are immersed in that moment. If five million people have sent their fiver to Friends Reunited, ‘Lord Anthony’ —
There are surprises too. A jaunty five minute epic called ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ which affectionately namechecks Thin Lizzy; the surly new wave outsiderdom of ‘Stay Loose’, which will remind, ooh, dozens of people how brilliant Joe Jackson’s first two albums were. There’s a humanity to the whole exercise which emotionally underwrites almost everything bearing the Belle And Sebastian imprint.