Dusted Reviews

Belle and Sebastian - The Life Pursuit

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Belle and Sebastian

Album: The Life Pursuit

Label: Matador

Review date: Mar. 7, 2006

Expensive production and years of professional musicianship have enabled Belle & Sebastian's derivative sensibilities, allowing for paeans to T. Rex and Sly and the Family Stone on The Life Pursuit. Some of the songs are inventive, but the album never gels, and too much dabbling obscures Stuart Murdoch's darling vulnerability. Most successful bands begin with too many ideas, eventually paring them down and settling on a style. Belle and Sebastian have moved in the opposite direction. Ten years on, this is an album of reverent experiments.

To its credit, The Life Pursuit is hummable and upbeat, and attempts in earnest to expand the band's musical range. "Another Sunny Day" pop-twangs with a subtle energy. The vocals and guitar stick equally in the head, juxtaposed against a sad love story. The band circa Tigermilk could not have pulled this off. Nor the richness of "The Blues are Still Blue," on which Murdoch tries out a maybe-sarcastic Marc Bolan over a thick soup whose ingredients are plucked with impunity from the overgrown tree of the 1970s.

Though these may succeed as pop songs, Belle & Sebastian ultimately subvert their appeal by contradicting precious, self-effacing sentiments with brash music. As it happens, lines like "We may as well be dead" sound flat when posited against guitar clichés. The sense, and occasionally the realization, of arrangements falling apart, was once central to Belle & Sebastianness, a complement to adolescent lyricism, but no longer.

And what to do with "Song for Sunshine," but scratch your head? After the album hints at soul several times, this song addresses it head-on. Syrupy organ and a repetitive melody in the manner of the Ohio Players resolve awkwardly in a lofty chorus of "Sunshine / We all see the same sky / Looking, learning, asking the same 'why?'" The level of irony at work may be unknowable. It's embarrassing regardless. At the risk of sounding reactionary, the best tracks may be Stevie Jackson's "To Be Myself Completely" and Murdoch's "Dress Up in You," both of which are generally unmediated by studio excess, and which don't overreach.

Perhaps Belle & Sebastian have simply grown older and less melancholy, tempering the self-conscious mystery and surpassing the flawed (but expressive!) musicianship of their early years. And perhaps If You're Feeling Sinister devotees are therefore poor judges of their current work. But they are probably the most common ones.

By Ben Tausig

Other Reviews of Belle and Sebastian


Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Write About Love

Read More

View all articles by Ben Tausig

Find out more about Matador

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.