There are two types of people - those who are fans of Belle & Sebastian and those who are too ashamed to admit such plebbishness regarding musical tastes, that they won’t admit to not being fans of the Glaswegian band.
Unfortunately I fall into the latter camp. I wish I got this band, I really do. I wish I was one of those cool-kid superfans. So I’m trying my darndest with this triplicate mini-album release – a hark back to their 1997 album of the same order.
“Sweet Dew Lee” hearteningly opens with a duet that promises the filmic soundscapes of earlier albums, but ends up being try-hard jaunty and doesn’t feel entirely authentic, ending in fizzing 70s disco-pop. There’s upbeat, brassy fanfares, lyrics about being “on the outside looking in” and melodic flutey tracks in the first part of How To Solve Our Human Problems. Protest song “The Girl Doesn’t Get It” is standout for its lyrics – “They'll take profits over people/They will make the country great again/Just as long as it's white and ugly/Fear the immigrant workforce” – finally, a hook! Something I get, that echoes the old Belle & Sebastian theme of streams of socio-political consciousness that I once tried to relate to. But the song continues with a grim adage that puts me right off: “You're alone in the dark night/Sitting down with your worries/'Cause your glorious youth got fucked up/You're a train in the siding/You're a car in a pileup/You should dance till your heart is joyful". I mean, firstly – if only it were that simple. But secondly, being a grown up doesn’t have to be so fucking depressing. Guys, life begins at 40, right? RIGHT?
Whether a fear of the future, or a yearning for a lost past, the theme of growing up continues with “Everything is Now” in which, “everything is different now...” Something we all agree on. Musically (the band have been through many new styles and versions of themselves), technologically (they don’t like churning out soft streaming launches one after the other, hence the triplicate EP release) and life-wise – there’s no more introverted pre-hipster bedroom indie here, the band has grown up, moved on and become parents themselves.
Interestingly the only song that really resonates with me is on this topic – “I'll Be Your Pilot” sees Stuart Murdoch imparting wisdom to his son in a cautionary tale: “It’s tough to become a grown-up/put it off while you can”/”I’ll tell you that when you land in the real world/It’s like quicksand". I actually quite like it – it’s just a shame I hate oboe which is the song’s instrumental backbone.
I actually find myself yearning for the band’s earlier music - that wise and intense, theatrical stream-of-consciousness pre-hipster-ness that created deep characters through a fine art of musical storytelling. But now, to balance the dreariness there is an obsequious flipside, an attempt at being carefree and fun that’s all sheeny glitterballs and neon facepaint - nowhere more so in the “na na na na naaa” chorus of “Show Me The Sun”.
At some point, I give up trying. The Bowie try-hard sci-fi dischord of “Cornflakes” is vile. There’s a lot more wry rambling and lyrics like “When you’re asleep you may as well be dead”, which I just fundamentally don’t agree with. I still just don’t get it.
Maybe I don’t belong to the upper echelons of new music academia. Or perhaps Belle & Sebastian have changed so dramatically from their musical origins that it’s hard to come in on the last chapter of their story. My feeling on it is, if you weren't a fan by now, this trio of albums will be unlikely to convert you.