Belle and Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance (3 stars)

Glasgow indie veterans go all-out for pop, with mixed results

Belle and Sebastian -- Girls In Peacetime Want to Dance

In an interview last summer with The Herald, Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch recalled a meeting with Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant that seems to have had a profound effect on the band’s fresh direction. While the gist of their chat was Tennant’s belief that B&S needed to do a bit more with their live shows, the six-piece appear to have gone an extra yard and appropriated some of the PSB sound.

While there has undoubtedly been a gradual distancing from their uber-indie roots, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is the most unashamedly pop offering Belle and Sebastian have produced. There are nods to Tennant and Lowe that are more than passing on the likes of ‘The Party Line’ and ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’ (the most un-Bell Jar-like sounding song ever put on record) while ‘The Everlasting Muse’ lays the new philosophy on the line: ‘Be popular, play pop and you will win my love’.

It all goes way too far with the CBeebies-esque intro to ‘Play for Today’, and ‘Perfect Couples’, with its funky-jazziness, is a little too Matt Bianco for comfort. ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’ gets things back on track, but when the verse almost strays into ‘The State I Am In’, it might leave the seasoned B&S-watcher with a nostalgic ache.

While the overall tempo is seriously upped, the subject matter remains downcast. Murdoch has dubbed opener ‘Nobody’s Empire’ as his most personal song to date, covering a debilitating illness (he has suffered Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since his late teens); ‘Allie’ features a youngster fretting about the state of the world; and ‘The Cat with the Cream’ gets vaguely political with its analysis of how nothing really changed after the global financial meltdown.

The attempt to go off into a whole new territory is an admirable pursuit but here, it doesn’t quite sit right. There’s plenty of fun to be had throughout, but the songs that will stick in your head are not the ones you'll want there.

Belle & Sebastian

Scotland's much loved purveyors of jangling indie magic perform tracks from their latest album Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance.

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