Is there a better time in any young lit-inclined introvert’s life than the release of a new Belle and Sebastian album? The answer used to be an emphatic “Never!” but the recent addition of Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance when combined with their last compilation album The Third Eye Centre means… well at least there’s a new season of The Walking Dead to look forward to.
What has happened to the Belle and Sebastian we all love? Oh sure! All the old hallmarks that hooked us are present on the new LP. The sweet, naïve lyrical idiosyncrasies are there: the title Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance keeps in lockstep with past endeavors. There are also attempts at acousto- innocence played out around British working class narratives, but what’s this new element sneaking into the mix?
That my friend is production value. I don’t mean to confuse; this isn’t some Americana reel to reel purist group we’re talking about. Even bare basics tracks like “Piazza New York Catcher” or “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying” from past albums contained some post-production work. And its long been known Steven Murdoch has a penchant for 80’s pub-pop synth, but on this latest work perhaps he’s let it go a bit too far.
You see, their entire career Belle and Sebastian has been working towards radio acceptance. Though albums have charted progressively higher the group has never been more than a hipster reference, dropped and applauded free of charge to the band itself. While not exactly paupers, and after nearly twenty years perhaps the group was looking for “Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance” to finally break them through into the mainstream market.
Unfortunately, they will find disappointed. Much like the Arcade Fire’s deep album upbeat synth numbers, tracks like “Enter Sylvia Plath” and “Play for Today” or the experimental dance “Perfect Couples” seem to grate as opposed to enliven. And this would be fine and well were there real strength- acoustic slowburn numbers like “Ever Had a Little Faith?” solid enough to distract from the electro blunders.
Belle and Sebastian isn’t some fly by night flavor of the moment group. That being said neither are they above reproach. Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance isn’t a poor album, it’s just not as good as a seasoned, highly creative, highly stylized group like Belle and Sebastian could do.