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Belle & Sebastian return to glory

Ryan Rafferty | Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Very few artists can claim such a comeback as Stuart Murdoch. As lead singer and songwriter of the Glaswegian septet Belle and Sebastian, Murdoch crafted two of the most elegant and eloquent albums of the ’90s. But the band ruined its reputation by attempting to divvy up the songwriting and their following albums sounded like a hodgepodge of musical styles, and the band quickly disappeared. Enter Belle and Sebastian’s latest album Dear Catastrophe Waitress. This album came to the rescue and returned the band to it’s previous grandeur, but with a different direction. Formerly a very private and elusive band, Belle and Sebastian has lifted the veil and started speaking with the press and publishing band photos. But what really made this album a return to glory for the band was Murdoch’s return as the sole songwriter. There are two songs on the album which feature other band members on vocals, but they do not stray far from the uber-pop that Stuart Murdoch and company have perfectly crafted on Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Belle and Sebastian teamed up with producer Trevor Horn, who has worked with the likes of T.A.T.U and Seal, to make their latest album. With Horn’s help, the band turned its formerly misguided chamber pop into pop music that could be the soundtrack to any Partridge Family episode. Many bands could easily push this sound over the edge into fluff, but Murdoch and company have learned from the past and know exactly where to draw the line. Dear Catastrophe Waitress, just like Johnny Cash, walks the line. It walks a fine line between fluff and intelligent and catchy; and the music is glorious. Songs like “I’m a Cuckoo,” “Piazza New York Catcher,” “Stay Loose” and the title track soar amongst the lush backdrop of 1960s pop. Belle and Sebastian incorporate the wonderful Rickenbacker bounce of bands such as the Byrds, Turtles, Animals and the Mamas and the Papas into every guitar riff. What makes this album so great, however, is the individual attention paid to every instrument. An expansive orchestra accompanies the band throughout the entire album and rivals the orchestration of the Beach Boy’s “Good Vibrations” on such tracks as “Step into My Office, Baby.” Other instances of attention to detail occur throughout the album, specifically the wonderfully light guitar solo in “If She Wants Me” and the simple, yet assertive bass line in “Wrapped Up in Books.”Lyrically, Stuart Murdoch is at his finest. He writes beautifully complex character sketches of several varying, suffering characters such as a bullied young boy in “Lord Anthony” and a rattled waitress in the title track “Dear Catastrophe Waitress.” His best work appears in the complex “Piazza, New York Catcher” in which he intertwines several stories of lost love and somehow manages to work in endearing words for Mike Piazza. Dear Catastrophe Waitress is a beautifully constructed album. Every song has its own character and invites the listener to explore the vast musicianship employed. The album is extremely poppy and is a step in a new direction for the band. Belle and Sebastian have ditched the introverted, shy façade in favor of the new full force musical experience. The band has evolved greatly from their muddled previous albums, to the grandeur that is the pop masterpiece Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

Contact Ryan Rafferty at rraffert@nd.edu