Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Albums of the Year # 26 Belle & Sebastian - A Bit of Previous



You probably won't need to read this review to decide whether you want to read the latest album by Belle & Sebastian, A Bit of Previous, their tenth in allFor such an apparently inoffensive band, they're really quite divisive.

I'd say if you've ever enjoyed anything by them over the years, give it a listen. It feels like a return to form, to such a degree that it bears comparison with virtually any album they've put out down the years. Not If You're Feeling Sinister perhaps, or Boy With The Arab Strap, but these are the kind of records that bands can only really come out with in the first flush of giddy youth. As a record that's clearly a product of middle age and all it inevitably brings, A Bit of Previous has plenty going for it. 

For starters, it has plenty of career best songs. Just kisten to the three that kick off the record. Young & Stupid, Talk To Me, and particularly If They're Shooting At You. They're reminders of what made Belle & Sebastian stand out from the pack when they first appeared in the mid-Nineties. The new gang on the block. The distinctly wimpy one that you wouldn't want to mix with anyhow because they so clearly exactly who they were and where they were going.

Belle & Sebastian arrived fully formed, like The Smiths more than anyone before them, (and this was entirely calculated on their part), with a clearly delineated sensibility, look and sound, a package that was ready made for an existing indie congregation to embrace and relish.

A Bit of Previous is an album, more than any they've released for perhaps more than fifteen years that seems tailored entirely for B & S devotees needs. Perhaps the fact that its the first for almost twenty that they've recorded in home town Glasgow, inspired by Lockdown walks leader Stuart Murdoch took across the city has spmething to do with this sense of return.

So, twelve songs in all. None of them extraneous. Perhaps they retreat into sentiment to a greater degree than they need to during the last few songs, where Deathbed of my Dreams reminded me of no one so much as Val Doonican. Belle & Sebastian have always had something of the slippers, cocoa and cosy sweaters feel to them but this is a little too far even for the likes of me who are highly prone to the twee things in life.

But this is the merest quibble. It's nice to see them still in such rude health, like meeting up with an old, important friend for the first time in many years and being delighted to find there's still a spring in their step and a twinkle in their eyes when they smile just as there always was.

There are still reminders of their usual touchstones. The Smiths, the early, gentler Velvet Underground, The Kinks. And delightfully on If They're Shooting At You early Dexys. Like Dexys, it's worth restating that Belle & Sebastian are first and foremost a gang. One that sticks together, their line up has changed remarkably little down the years.  They also have no intention like Morrissey of disappointing you in middle and old age in terms of their attitudes and beliefs. 

They're just as,politically and socially engaged perhaps if anything, even more so, than they've ever been. They do Indie Pop, they do Northern Soul, they even do a turn on the dancefloor like your Aunts and Uncles as the wedding reception presses on into the evening and the one drink too many kicks in. They're not done yet and that's very much to their credit. 

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