It’s been a few years since Belle And Sebastian released The Life Pursuit, one of the Glasgow group’s best albums, but you wouldn’t know it from the first notes of Write About Love. Picking up where its predecessor left off, it continues to add pop muscle to the band’s signature delicacy as if the hiatus never happened. There are, however, signs of what happened in the time between. Frontman Stuart Murdoch spent those years working on God Help The Girl, a girl group side project/proposed film musical that moved the emphasis to female vocals and occasionally strained too hard for hooks. Elements from that project linger on Write About Love—the female singers, and troublingly, the straining.
Norah Jones lends smoky guest assistance to “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” making one of Murdoch’s mopier lyrics sound improbably sultry. Elsewhere, actor Carey Mulligan—who tends to play characters who might have stepped out of Belle And Sebastian songs—assists with the fine title track, while other songs bring band member Sarah Martin to the fore. The trouble with the album—one for the good-not-great file—isn’t the rotating cast of lead vocalists (which also includes Stevie Jackson). Nor is it a lack of catchy tracks like “The Ghost Of Rockschool,” or bouncy songs that challenge preconceptions of what the band is supposed to sound like, such as the organ-driven “Come On Sister.” The trouble is that much of Write About Love sounds unexpectedly disengaged, at times more like the work of old pros than a band first embraced for its unforced, unguarded sound. The long break didn’t stall the group’s momentum, but Write About Love suggests Belle And Sebastian may have forgot a trick or two about, well, writing about love.