Belle and Sebastian have mixed quality and quantity extremely well through the years. Their early output in particular was pretty phenomenal as they released non-album EP's, quickly building up an extensive back catalogue that was the envy of many.
Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance is their ninth album, an excellent return in the 19-years since the release of Tigermilk. All of the stuff that I love about Belle and Sebastian (and much, much more) is displayed on this album. This is a band that still have so much to give - developing as musicians and artists, always pushing to improve.
Nobody's Empire is melodic, upbeat, playful with a gospel tinge at times and has that Belle's feel about it - pure, soulful. The piano melody is gorgeous. Stuart Murdoch's vocals are exquisite, he really goes for it towards the end, his band gelling and flowing superbly with him.
Murdoch's ability to match his unique lyrics with catchy melodies is showcased on Allie that sounds like it could easily fit in with material from the Dear Catastrophe Waitress era.
The Party Line comes in like a synth 80's disco party with added funky guitar and cowbells. If Girls in Peacetime Want To Dance then so do the Belles! Anyone who has seen Stuart dancing when they play live will confirm that. I remember seeing him years and years ago at an indie club in Glasgow at the Woodside Social and he is quite a mover!
Anyway, enough memories, The Party Line is excellent, still definitely Belle and Sebastian but with added freshness and zest.
Sarah takes lead vocals for The Power of Three, full of beautiful melodies and funny yet meaningful lyrics, like searching for answers by reading 3 horoscopes rather than one.
The pace slows for The Cat with the Cream with Stuart almost whispering over soaring strings. I can imagine this being pretty powerful and emotive when they play it live at the Hydro with the Scottish National Orchestra.
The pace picks up considerably with Enter Sylvia Plath which takes us back to high NRG 80's disco, coming in sounding like The Communards before Stuart's distinctive vocals remind us that this is Belle and Sebastian.
The Belles mix it up again with The Everlasting Muse, all funky bass, choppy guitars and cool keys with a dark edge. The change in pace and style around 1 minute 50 seconds in took me by surprise, a magical surprise. Belle and Sebastian are incredibly capable and intelligent musicians with fantastic taste and knowledge of guitar pop music and they really showcase it on this beauty. A real standout on first listen, with so much to enjoy and take in I went straight back for a second and third listen.
The interplay between Stuart and Sarah is sublime, Stuart is in sensational form and the band gel superbly throughout the song, particularly on the closing minute.
Bongo drums, percussion and housey/disco female vocals in the background usher in Perfect Couples before the beat kicks in along with Stevie Jackson's disco style guitar.
Stevie also takes on lead vocals. Outwith the band Stevie has assembled a group of friends to play a few joyous shows under the guise of Disco Shark. He has definitely taken that vibe to the rest of the band. Perfect Couples is a delightful disco romp. Brilliant.
Ever Had A Little Faith is probably the most 'old school' Belles style song on the album; beautifully strummed acoustic guitars, Stuart telling stories, asking questions. It is rather gorgeous.
Play for Today brings back the disco vibe for an epic 7-minutes and 30 seconds. Stuart takes on the start of the song before Dee Dee Penny from Dum Dum Girls comes in, sounding incredible, her vocals really suit this song, lifting it high. This is a sensational song, one of the best things they have done, I can't wait to see and hear it live. Listen to it and get lost in it is my advice.
Oooft it's pretty hard to top a track like that, so the band bring it down with The Book Of You with Sarah taking lead vocals. Stuart and Sarah sing in tandem as the song romps gloriously towards conclusion. We're always walking in the rain....
Today (This Army's for Peace) is a beautiful dreamy closer to a brilliant album.
Belle and Sebastian tour extensively returning to Glasgow for a huge show at the Hydro on 22nd May with the Scottish National Orchestra. The album is out on Monday 19th January 2015.