Belle And Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Belle And Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress

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Belle And Sebastian

Album: Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Label: Rough Trade

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Stuart Murdoch isn't funky. The frontman of Belle And Sebastian has always sung with the delicacy of a shy, over-talented freshman, producing a sound that's as far as possible from the gut-busting confidence of funk. That doesn't stop him from offering a reasonable facsimile of funkiness on "If She Wants Me," one of the better tracks on Belle And Sebastian's new Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and it's hard to fault him for wanting to try something new. After making its initial mark with two near-perfect albums of lush, fragile pop, Belle And Sebastian has seemed unsure whether to revisit those triumphs or expand in several directions at once. Recorded after the group jumped labels and replaced several key members, Dear Catastrophe Waitress features a few backwards-looking moments, but otherwise finds Murdoch and the latest B&S incarnation living out the fantasies of Mojo-reading record geeks everywhere, trying on Beach Boys harmonies one moment, and Broadway-style orchestration or new-wave edginess the next. Perhaps unavoidably, the album produces more pleasant moments than memorable ones. All-star '80s producer Trevor Horn, a veteran of ABC, Pet Shop Boys, and many others, plays along, but the layers he adds to the group's already-dense approach often sound like frosting hitting frosting. When it works, as when Murdoch's voice bounces off the "Reelin' In The Years" guitars of "I'm A Cuckoo," the whole project seems worth the effort. But the best moments are often the least fussed-over, like the jaded high-school misadventures of the bullied "Lord Anthony" or "Piazza, New York Catcher" ("...are you straight or are you gay?"), which plays out a love affair over the course of a baseball season, using little more than Murdoch's verbosity and an acoustic guitar. It's been decades since Donovan, so maybe the world is ready for another solo folksinger with a Glasgow brogue.

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