Belle & Sebastian, The Boy With The Arab Strap (Jeepster/Matador)

Posted December 31st, 1998 by admin

Belle & Sebastian
The Boy With The Arab Strap
By: Eric Greenwood

This follow up to the very brilliant If You�re Feeling Sinister has a lot to live up to since this overly shy eight-piece band from Glasgow, Scotland has graced the unlikely pages of Entertainment Weekly and been name dropped on the MTV Video Music Awards. Belle & Sebastian write heartbreaking, simple pop songs characterized by lead vocalist Stuart Murdoch�s light melancholic cadences, which bear a disturbing resemblance to the late great Nick Drake.

The song structures are reminiscent of early Velvet Underground while the melodies hint at traces of both The Smiths and Felt. This album while neither as delicate nor as sentimental as its predecessor is perfect melancholic pop. The lyrics take the minutiae of mundane everyday life and glorify it with the intensity of high school journal keepers while maintaining a sinister sense of humor: �Take Judy with her bow and arrow she�s a mastermind/Too frumpy for the teenage population of her time/Car coat she has a quilted jacket with a hood if it rains/Big pockets for the pharmaceuticals she takes to fix her brain (�The Rollercoaster Ride�).

This is Belle & Sebastian�s third full length- their first album, Tigermilk, is extremely hard to come by as only 1,000 (vinyl) copies were pressed in England- and it displays quite a bit more confidence both lyrically and musically. The album occasionally loses focus, however, when Murdoch passes the microphone to some of his bandmates, whose voices fail to create the intimacy that separates Belle & Sebastian from legions of other like-minded bands. This album succeeds in being a bit more adventurous with electric guitars edging into the forefront (�A Summer Wasting�, �Simple Things�) and its sparing use of synthetics, but things do digress slightly with an unwelcome foray into spoken word (�A Space Boy Dream�). Such minor missteps are rare and easily overlooked in the wake of a flawless song like �Ease Your Feet Into The Sea.� Belle & Sebastian seem wide-eyed and innocent with singsong melodies and bright, poppy arrangements, but there is a dark element that rears its head from time to time letting you know that they know what they�re doing.

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