As a surprise shot in the arm to get the year off to a good start, Stuart Murdoch and co’s second album in 12 months is a very welcome New Year present
As January is traditionally the most depressing of months – the post-Christmas buzz has worn off, nobody has any money and the back to work grind is in full effect – the odd surprise is very welcome. And they don’t come much more surprising than a second Belle and Sebastian album in less than 12 months.
Last May, Stuart Murdoch’s band released their 11th studio album, A Bit Of Previous, recorded throughout lockdown in their home city of Glasgow. It turned out that they’d recorded so many songs in these sessions that there were easily enough tracks left over to produce another record, and to suddenly release it without fanfare in the middle of January.
And so it is that we have Late Developers. You’d be forgiven for thinking it would be full of filler next to the excellent A Bit Of Previous, but this is very much not the case. There’s obviously nothing too surprising of course (this is a band that have been recording together for nearly 30 years, after all), yet it’s a pleasantly diverse album, from the raw opening track Juliet Naked to the full on pure pop brilliance (no, really) of I Don’t Know What You See In Me.
Juliet Naked grabs the attention straight away with its early Billy Bragg-style solo guitar riff, but it’s the latter track which deserves to rank among the best songs that Belle and Sebastian have recorded in their career – big shiny synths and a chorus that’s just begging to be sung along to. It’s polished and catchy and in another universe would be a staple on every radio station. Give A Little Time is similarly bright and breezy, while the soulful horn section on The Evening Star sounds almost Stax-like.
As on A Bit Of Previous, there are also contributions from Sarah Martin and Stevie Jackson throughout – the latter’s So In The Moment is a definite album highlight, featuring a juddering guitar riff and a lyrical name-check to Paul McCartney and Wings. Probably of most interest to long-time Belle and Sebastian fans though, will be When The Cynics Stare Back From The Wall, a song that was actually written back in 1994 (before the band had even formed) – it’s now brought to life where Camera Obscura‘s TraceyAnne Campbell duets with Murdoch, and it’s almost like a more muscular version of a track from Tigermilk. Quite lovely, in fact.
Occasionally proceedings do become a bit too twee – Will I Tell You A Secret and the closing title track just become slightly cloying after a while. Yet that pretty much comes with the territory with a Belle and Sebastian album, and as usual the positives far outweigh the negatives. As a surprise shot in the arm to get the year off to a good start, this is a very welcome New Year present.