Seven years since their last ‘official’ album comes this warm, comforting return from a band who do what they do extremely well
It’s been seven years since the last ‘official’ Belle and Sebastian album (if you discount the EP collection How To Solve Our Human Problems, a live record and the soundtrack to Simon Bird’s film Days Of The Bagnold Summer), and within just a few seconds of opening track Young And Stupid, it feels like they’ve never been away.
A Bit Of Previous is an aptly named title for the band’s ninth studio album. Due to the pandemic, plans to record the record in California were shelved, and for the first time since 199, the entire band assembled in Glasgow for the recording sessions. Inevitably, an air of nostalgia coats the songs, and musically there seems to be nods towards all eras of Stuart Murdoch and company’s career.
Young And Stupid is a wistful opening track, guaranteed to be swooned over by fans of a certain vintage. It’s a bittersweet number, looking at the changing nature of friendship as the years go by – lines like “now we’re old with creaking bones, some with partners, some alone” hit the emotional mark even as the melody is about as light and upbeat as Murdoch gets.
A Bit Of Previous isn’t as full on poppy as the likes of The Life Pursuit but neither is it a return to the acoustic tweeness that became the band’s trademark. Talk To Me Talk To Me is a surprisingly muscular synth-heavy anthem, while the lovely Do It For Your Country with its shimmering little guitar motifs, harks back to the days of Tigermilk. In addition, If They’re Shooting At You (recently released as a charity track for the victims of the war in Ukraine) has a quiet, understated power to it.
It’s also the first Belle and Sebastian album for a while that doesn’t sounds like a Stuart Murdoch solo project. He’s still ostensibly the leader of course, but songs like Sarah Martin’s Reclaim The Night, about the ever-present danger to women in society (“you hear a clumsy move, I see threatening”) and the uplifting Come On Home – a horn-soaked duet between Martin and Murdoch – gives the album a real collaborative feel.
Unnecessary Drama has an angry edge to it – a blasting harmonica, and lyrical references to “an array of douchebags” while Stevie Jackson’s country lament Deathbed Of My Dreams is on the opposite side of the spectrum, sounding uncannily like Richard Hawley in parts. It’s the closing Working Boy In New York City that’s most successful though – a flute, harmonies and a big swell of a chorus ensures that the album ends on a positive note.
While there are no surprises to be found on A Bit Of Previous – it’s pretty much a textbook example of how a Belle and Sebastian album should sound after 20 years – it’s a warm, comforting return for a band who do what they do extremely well.