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CD Review: Belle and Sebastian – The Life Pursuit

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Once upon a time there was an art called Storytelling. Now, Storytelling was once a way of life; it was performed for kings, chieftains, and sultans. One day, Storytelling met a beautiful girl named Music; they were wed and had a beautiful child called Song. Storytelling and Music fell in love and were thought to be inseparable. But as time advanced, so did technology. Music turned toward this new technology and found that it could grow much more powerful than Storytelling ever was or would be. Music allowed Storytelling to follow along out of a once highly revered respect but she knew he was more formality than necessity. Storytelling, the once proud art, had fallen victim to technology, marking Storytelling’s fall from grace.

Then one infamous day, the knight Sir Stuart Murdoch of the Belle and Sebastian clan came to find Storytelling attached to a leash. He was being dragged forward by a whistling, skipping Music. Luckily, Sir Murdoch had a degree in marriage counseling and the knight explained to both Storytelling and Music that the three of them, including Song, could live happily together. Song would only truly be great if she inherited positive attributes from both her parents. Storytelling was revived, Music understood what she had been missing all this time, and Song grew to be an even greater art than either of her parents. And they all lived happily ever after.

I have always been a proponent of meaningful lyrics Some contemporary bands just write a song and throw whatever catchphrase or woesome words they can come up with to lure in impressionable and confused listeners. I hate the logic involved with, “If I sing sad lyrics, maybe sad people will buy my CD.” Yes, sad people will buy sad albums, but it does nothing for the art if those songs inherently mean nothing.

This is where Belle and Sebastian really have excelled. They’ve taken a stand against “the way things are.” For proof, check out their latest, The Life Pursuit.

The majority of the new album deals with the troubles and confusion of youth and a myriad of other bittersweet love issues. Some noteworthy tracks include “Act of the Apostle Part I & II,” which tells the story of a high school girl and use of a biblical daydream to deal with inner turmoil and “Funny Little Frog,” which tells the story of the protagonists’ obsession with the virgin mother.

The thing to understand about this album, or about Belle and Sebastian in general, is that the chief aspect is their storytelling. The band’s accompaniment and melodies contain traditional sounds and vibrant strings which serve as a guide to the lyrical mastery within each song. The songs, although enigmatic, contain musical directions to lead you in the right direction; it’s as if the music itself has taken upon itself the responsibility of conveying the emotion of the stories.

The principal track that sums up this album for me is “Dress up in You.” This is a wonderfully executed track which uses your preconceived notions to lead you on an emotional journey – each verse discloses more information. You go into the song with one idea of what it is about and end with an understanding of emotion, heartache, admiration and disappointment all wrapped into one. This song truly showcases the lyrical and musical abilities of the artists and the storytelling competence of the vocalist, Stuart Murdoch.

If you are a fan of Belle and Sebastian or if you like narrative lyrics with elegant musical accompaniment, this album will be a true treat for you. Though not as genre-defining as their iTunes exclusive release, If You’re Feeling Sinister: Live at the Barbican, The Life Pursuit is a great addition to any fan’s B&S collection, and it is highly recommended as well for newcomers looking to expand their musical horizons.

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  • Bob

    Trevor Horn does not produce this LP. He produced the bands last album ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ and that it all he has done with the band.

  • http://www.musicsquared.com/blog/ Ryan C. Seay

    You are correct; It was a misreading on my part from matador records website. Trevor Horn is not a part of this one. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    Good review. I’m new to this band but I love what I’ve heard

  • http://counter-point.blogspot.com Scott

    This is a GREAT record. Such feel-good music! It puts me in a good mood listening to it. I recommend this for everyone…and I bet we’ll see it on some critics year-end lists for 2006.

  • Scott Butki

    I think I’ll go buy it now.
    Thanks