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Listening

Belle and Sebastian, Dear Catastrophe Waitress

One could be forgiven for missing out on Dear Catastrophe Waitress. After all, it seemed Belle and Sebastian’s star had set for good; their last formal effort (disregarding the 2002 soundtrack for Storytelling) was 2000’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, the main drawback of which lay only in choosing whether it was us or the band that had grown tired of the twee literariness of Belle and Sebastian. Let’s call it a draw and have a do-over with Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Because this time around it’s a whole different story…

With some new members in place (Stuart David left to write books, Isobel left to not be in the band), we’ve got a reinvigorated B&S, and possibly one that’s been listening to a healthy doses of Thin Lizzy and maybe even the theme songs to some ‘70s TV shows. ‘Step Into My Office, Baby’ is a pleasant chug-along of a tune, with some altogether un-mild references to workplace misbehavior. This isn’t the sweet-faced, heart-sleeved innocence of past Belle and Sebastian. This is sexual, complicated, built, and, all the way through to the next cut, the title track, the feeling holds true. A whole, more advanced, more mature sound is what they’re toying with here. And with a steady, controlled vibe.

‘If She Wants Me’ gives us the most surprisingly happy result you could get when you combine ‘island groove’ and ‘Belle and Sebastian’: bouncy, chirpy, tightly soulful. We still see tiny glimmers of the Belle and Sebastian we knew before and loved so much, but coupled with this—more relaxed, hair-down, and even…fun?—version of the band, it becomes much more important and special.

This is never more apparent than on the album highlight, and closer, ‘Stay Loose.’ An atmospheric John Taylor/dub-ish bassline anchors the piece, changing keys with an intricate, non-ironic guitar solo arpeggiated to an astounding effect in a way that’s truly Belle and Sebastian’s own, even in the synthesizers (again, nonironic). In the final quarter of the song the band swiftly brings down the lights for a touch of the preciousness that brought us all to this point with them in the first place, six or seven years ago. Here, in this brief moment, a softly strummed electric and quiet vocals echo the Belle and Sebastian of yore. And it sounds so good, so familiar, and as the song swells back into place, building into a final burst of guitar and rhythm, we’re glad to have seen that, yeah, it really was them behind all this. And we’re so glad to have them back. Better than before.

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Andrew Womack is a founding editor of The Morning News. He is always working on the next installment of the Albums of the Year series at TMN. More by Andrew Womack

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