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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 Hollywoods crap demos sound like a Wagnerian prolapse, Stuart Murdochs 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 — often with the help of musician-hating robots specially teleported from the year 2050? Its a question Murdoch was forced to ask himself when he got the approach from Horn, whose teenage son was a big Belle And Sebastian fan. Rumour has it that the producer said, ‘I know what youre trying to do and I can help you achieve it. Out of ‘mildly piqued interest, Murdoch responded.

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 — although one did leave of her own accord. Released in the same month is Isobel Campbells Amorino (Snowstorm, three stars, £13.99). Once Murdochs girlfriend, Campbells gradual transition from muse to artist has already yielded a few moments of quiet revelation on two previous albums. Her intuition when it comes to putting the ingredients of a song together is bang on the button, whether it be the Midnight Cowboy languor of ‘Why Does My Head Hurt So or the autumnal melancholia of ‘Time Is Just The Same.

While Campbell revels in the freedom of solo artistry, Belle And Sebastians 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, ‘Ive been here for years/Just wandering around the neighbourhood. Murdochs 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 — ‘And they got you on the ground/Tasting blood again, at least its your own — reminds you why the other 50 million havent.

There are surprises too. A jaunty five minute epic called ‘Im 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 Jacksons first two albums were. Theres a humanity to the whole exercise which emotionally underwrites almost everything bearing the Belle And Sebastian imprint.