Ever since Belle and Sebastian shocked the indie pop world with 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress by releasing a louder, dancier, more mainstream album than anyone thought possible, fans have had to reconcile with the fact that they’re basically a different band now. Gone are the days of lead singer and songwriter Stuart Murdoch sing-whispering into your ear; gone are the intricate melodies and crescendoing horns.
Instead, we get their new album, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, continuing the trend by trading in the twee that defined their first few albums for disco bass-lines and synth strings. Those elements aren’t inherently problematic, and past bands have fundamentally changed their sound to great benefit; the problem with this album is that parts of what they used to be shine through and muddle whatever their new sound is attempting to be. The result is less an album, more a slapdash collection of songs, where standouts like “The Cat with the Cream” and “Ever had a Little Faith?” succeed primarily because they sound like they could be B-sides from Tigermilk (1996) or The Boy with the Arab Strap (1998). As a whole, the album is around 80 per cent filler, with most songs going over five minutes.
On a songwriting level, Murdoch’s lyrics live and die by their specificity, and this album fails to deliver the laser-guided precision of his earlier work, exchanging focused vignettes about lower-middle class Scottish existence for broad platitudes about modern life. The immediacy and vitality of Belle and Sebastian is gone but not completely forgotten in this aggressively mediocre new album.