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Album Review

Belle and Sebastian
Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance Matador

Article written by Kev W - Jan 15, 2015

Although always firmly rooted in the somewhat wide-ranging genre of indiepop, Belle and Sebastian have undergone more than one slight reinvention. The most notable was at the turn of the millennium which saw the departures of Isobel Campbell and Stuart David, as well as the move to a bigger label and the recruitment of Trevor Horn to produce the next record, 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress'. It was critically acclaimed and enjoyed reasonable commercial success, yet many long-time fans felt that some of the magic had gone, despite the clear quality of the writing. Following 2010's rather good '...Write About Love' album, it could be said that 'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance' is another reinvention or new start for the band.

The idea might be a little on the dubious side - Stuart Murdoch wanted to take past Eurovision winners and use their music as an inspiration, making each track loosely based on these songs. First single, 'The Party Line', is a definite curveball, taking you for a trip down the Eurodisco, but it's not quite as cheesy as that sounds. Instead it's a reasonably good electronic indiepop tune, albeit one that you'd struggle to pinpoint as being by B&S were it not for the vocals. So they're certainly opening new doorways. You perhaps couldn't get a more Belle and Sebastian sounding song title than 'Enter Sylvia Plath', but this is yet more Europop. 'Perfect Couples' also steers you closer to the dancefloor than normal. Not being up to speed with the contest which inspired such musical adventures, I can't tell you who any of them are based on, but apparently it is possible to do so. To hazard a guess, 'The Power Of Three' hints at a mellowed-out ABBA, but you wouldn't notice if you weren't looking. 'The Cat With The Cream' has a traditional French feel, but it doesn't overpower the song, and overall it's classic Belle and Sebastian, especially when it incorporates lines such as "I studied you in history/I studied in the library". The strongest continental flavour is on 'The Everlasting Muse' which is something of a journey and tastefully done, perhaps even giving advice on how to win the aforementioned competition - "She said 'Be popular. Play pop and you will win, my love'."

If it's their more conventional music that you're after then you need not worry, because despite any ideas or concepts, for the most part this is the band on classic form with their classic sound. Opening track 'Nobody's Empire' couldn't be by any other group and even harks back to those first few albums; it hardly bears describing, such is their legacy, and it's a fine piece of work indeed. 'Ever Had A Little Faith?' is another that fits that box. The more upbeat 'Allie' is perhaps closer to their second incarnation and is another quality song, as is the jaunty and quite wonderful 'The Book Of You'. At well over seven minutes, 'Play For Today' manages to pull in a touch of that continental electro and blend it with a top-notch song that's typical of some of the Glaswegians' more epic and memorable moments. It's one of several times they stretch things out past the five-minute barrier, but nothing outstays its welcome (unless you really object to their synth-based experiments). The sleepy and maudlin 'Today (This Army's For Peace)' signs things off with a certain majesty.

In essence, 'Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance' is, as a whole, unmistakeably a Belle and Sebastian album, and one which contains material as good as anything they've done in the past decade. The few occasions where they do go off the beaten track are a surprise but made to a good standard, despite the odd whiff of cheese. At just over an hour, you could happily remove/skip them should you so wish, and still have a full album's worth of indiepop from perhaps the genre's most celebrated act. A broadening of horizons then, but only to a point: Belle and Sebastian's ninth studio album isn't quite as off the wall as it could have been and will slot neatly into their catalogue. Another good job well done.


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