Glasgow indie pop band Belle & Sebastian are to release their much-anticipated ninth studio album, out this month. Released worldwide for the first time on Matador Records the album was produced by Ben H Allen III (Animal Collective, Gnarls Barkley) and recorded at Maze studios in Atlanta. Having recently reissued their whole back catalogue on vinyl, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance also follows 2010’s Write About Love. The album shows more of the upbeat, jovial Belle & Sebastian – but it’s not without a sad glint in their eyes.
“Nobody’s Empire” opens the album with Stuart Murdoch’s recognisable vocals and a song reminiscent of The Life Pursuit era, jaunty but sort of sad too; “If I had a camera I’d snap now, ‘cos there’s beauty in every stumble”. “Allie” begins with a harmony of ‘ba’s’ and quickly pushes into a narrative about Allie’s problems, and problems of the world too; “Allie what would you do? When your seven-year plan happens to someone else?”
The first single from the album “The Party Line” is a catchy number and is almost Human League-esque in its synth and rhythms. There’s a sense that it’s a song the band have sat down and written with the intention of it being a party anthem, something people could dance to. And of course, a Belle and Sebastian party anthem is not heavy or loud, but fun and insightful. The chorus rings out repeating over synth; “Jump to the beat of a party line, there is nobody here but your body, dear”.
“The Power of Three” sees Sarah Martin return to vocals, which gives a different kind of whimsical feel with her raspy voice and soft delivery. Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance takes a turn for the sombre with “The Cat with the Cream” which is filled with strings and reflections. “Enter Sylvia Plath” contrasts highly and in following a slow song appears quite jarring – it’s certainly the least classic Belle & Sebastian of the release. Eighties synth blasts out from the beginning whilst Murdoch and Martin have a sort of back and forth, taking vocals in turn before joining for harmonies to finish.
“The Everlasting Muse” is a steady, sensuous number with an interlude of Eastern European folk inspired melodies before “Perfect Couples” takes the rhythms to a more African place. “Ever Had a Little Faith?” is beautiful, subtle and full of uplifting mantras; “Something good will happen wait and see…” “You will flourish like a rose in June…” and “Throw away that stone of doubt…”
The album is certainly a grower; so die-hard fans may have to give it time to settle in. It’s also an album of two halves – the classic and beautiful Belle & Sebastian discovered in Tigermilk and The Boy with the Arab Strap and the new, more upbeat and experimental tunes too. And in fact, the finishing track “Today (This Army’s for Peace)” seems to pull those elements of old and new together in just the right way.
Reviewed by Heather Welsh