Nobody Is Dancing
With Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, Belle and Sebastian have made an incredibly un-danceable record. Perhaps a light sway while seated, but no dancing. Each song on the album seems to crawl along at a glacial pace, regardless of the actual tempo. Part of the problem here is that lead singer Stuart Murdoch’s voice is just too soft and too soothing (much in the vein of Nick Drake) to elicit much more than a sigh – contented or bored.
The album opener, “Nobody’s Empire”, suggests that this is going to be another typical Belle and Sebastian album (note: this would have been most welcome). It has the jangly guitars, the hushed vocals and the simple melody we’ve all come to expect from the band. It improves upon the established sound a bit by including a subtle dose of horns and choir vocals in the background – two nice textural choices that lesser groups might have shoved in your face. The second track, “Allie” continues in the same vein but with a more angsty, more powerful sound than Belle and Sebastian have ever produced before. The intro of the song sounds as if it’s going to be a 60’s revival track, but the band drops the cutesy a-cappella in favor of a more straightforward rock feel. The lyrics on the track all sound vaguely political (as they do on most of the album), but they never seem to make a point.
Which leads to an overarching theme throughout the album — a lot of bark, very little bite (although before proceeding it’s worth mentioning that tracks “The Cat With The Cream” and “Ever Had A Little Faith” are both excellent). Most of the album consists of songs with heavy beats and 80’s production aesthetics (think heavy reverb, aggressive synths, and Phil Collins drum sounds). Songs like “Play For Today”, “Enter Sylvia Plath” (which sounds like it’s straight out of a video game credits screen) and “The Power Of Three” try, and fail, to get you to dance. They’re overlong, often with incongruous hooks and vocal treatment, and they seem contrived. Belle and Sebastianhave always been distinctive because they were so calm, cool, and peacefully melancholy. With this latest record, it seems as if they’ve abandoned all that in order to tap into a fad. It is always admirable to try for a new sound, but this is a sound that Belle and Sebastian would have been better off avoiding.