Belle and Sebastian
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
19 January 2015
3.5 stars out of 5
Glaswegian twee institution Belle and Sebastian are about to drop their ninth album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, and the world will go on as usual afterwards. I’m pretty certain that there’s no obscure Mayan tablet that predicts that the release of this album will trigger global famine, pestilence, and/or disease. Nor will humanity as a whole achieve an elevated state of enlightenment through dishing out a few bucks for Stuart Murdoch & Co.’s newest recording. Indeed, what follows that fateful day, a mere week from now, will in all likelihood fall somewhere in between these two possibilities.
So what’s the deal with Girls? Well, Murdoch has decided that Cyndi Lauper was right all along: they just want to have fun, by means of shaking their booties on the dance floor. Tracks like “The Party Line” and “Enter Sylvia Plath” see the former world champions of twee dipping their toes into the great, heavily-chlorinated, indie disco pool. At other moments B&S sound like a somewhat exhausted iteration of their old selves—not that they’ve run out of ideas, but that they seem audibly tired. Murdoch sounds like he hasn’t slept in a few weeks on several tracks, such as the otherwise majestic “The Cat with the Cream.” (Too many yerba mate-infused party drinks and all-night dance-a-thons, Stu? Perhaps some sort of Sundance celebrity orgy hangover? I understand. I, too, am forty-something and can’t keep up with the young whippersnappers anymore. Just accept it and advance to the next square on the great board game of life.) Elsewhere, Murdoch grows bolder with messages of overt Christianity with “Ever Had a Little Faith?” but this isn’t as bold as his wholesale theft of Arcade Fire’s entire bag of tricks on “Play for Today.”
Myself, I’m perhaps an oddity among B&S fans, in that my favourite album of theirs is not If You’re Feeling Sinister, but The Life Pursuit. I can tell you that Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance has neither the glorious pop glee of the latter, nor the beautiful handmade cynicism of the former. Yes, a band is allowed to explore new directions—in this case, over-produced, ‘80s-influenced, pop excess—but by no means is its fan base obliged to follow it down every new road. I can’t see any B&S fanatic drooling over Girls like they would Tigermilk. That said, the bongo-saturated “Perfect Couples” is a pretty great tune, a sort of hypothetical: what if Odelay!-era Beck covered Duran Duran?
reviewed by Richard Krueger