Call it a combination of the Covid-era, old age and the 90s holding steady in pop culture but I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately.
It doesn’t take much to send me down the rabbit hole of thinking about the way things used to be and after too long I’m left with the feeling of wondering where it all went?
When I saw both the name of the band and the album title, I thought surely it was a greatest hits record, a retrospective for the Glasgow, Scottish alternative rockers.
After all, when I was in high school Belle and Sebastian was what the cool college kids were listening to, so naturally, I also put it on my playlist when I made the leap to higher education.
After seven years of not being in the studio, the band recaptures its youthful, energetic sound for its 10th album, “A Bit of Previous.”
It’s an album self-produced and recorded by Belle and Sebastian, the seven-piece consisting of singer-songwriter Stuart Murdoch, lead guitarist Stevie Jackson, keyboardist Chris Geddes, drummer Richard Colburn, Sarah Martin on violin and bassist Bobby Kildea. The album also hears contributions from Brian McNeil, Matt Wiggins, Kevin Burleigh and Shawn Everett.
From the opening track, “Young And Stupid” the band finds motivation in its past youthful exuberance:
“Everything is fine
When you’re young and stupid
When you’re young and stupid.”
However, age and reality set in on “If They’re Shooting At You,” which verse which especially millennials can relate to:
“So I said to you I’m busy
I got jobs to do that would make you dizzy
And I’m juggling all my plates
Living far below my estimate
People have for me, I’m always failing
In my family life I’m always trailing.”
What turns this on its head, is the chorus which seems to come running from the first track, like wresters running to the ring from the dressing room – “If they’re shooting at you, kid, you must be doing something right.”
The tender acoustic “Do It For Your Country” captures
Murdoch’s songwriting without getting caught up in the intense instrumentation of the full band.
The band sounds as cohesive as ever on the fun, upbeat tracks like “Prophets On Hold,” while Murdoch’s lyrics point to both optimism and comfort during difficult times.
“It’s a rough rocky road
And it’s going to get steep
I just wanted your soft tone
To allow me to sleep.”
The band takes listeners on a pop blues romp with “Unnecessary Drama,” which is a burning criticism that puts “poison characters” in its crosshairs. “Talk To Me” has the gravity of a delicious 80s pop melodramatic hit.
Toward the end of the album, we get a more holistic approach to the process of aging and time. I’ve written in this blog about Ram Dass and it seems like Murdoch may also be a fan, based on the lyrics in “Sea Of Sorrow:”
“Every other day I’m frozen with worry
Looking for a way to shed my own body
But I know it’s just like a jacket
A layer of skin.”
The funky closing track “Working Boy In New York City” is liberatingly free in its lyrics and its melody. It contains a hint of that sweet, Ram Dass advice, “Love everyone along the way” and it has a cheerful and comforting chorus: “Everybody gets an even shot at making heaven, wide is the gate.”
As usual, whenever I am feeling the weight of time weighing on me, I turn to music and especially to the bands that I listened to when I was in my early 20s.
Entering their 50s Belle and Sebastian make aging a welcome journey for this formerly angry young man who is still a little better than decade before I get there.
After listening to “A Bit Of Previous” from Belle and Sebastian, it makes it a little easier to heed the advice left from the final track:
“Listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Singing to the hope inside you.”
After 25 years of making music, Belle and Sebastian provide silver streak with its latest album reminding us all that at least the music makes it better.
Young and Stupid
If They’re Shooting At You
Talk To Me, Talk To Me
Do It For Your Country
Prophets On Hold
Sea of Sorrow
Working Boy In New York City