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Belle and Sebastian

Write About Love


Nov 24, 2010 Belle and Sebastian Bookmark and Share

What’s always differentiated Belle and Sebastian from legions of overly precious twee acts is the sheer emotional clarity with which Stuart Murdoch has written from a feminine perspective. He’s a male artist who rivals the likes of Lou Reed, Morrissey, and Michael Stipe in his sensitivity to the conundrum of—to quote his advice to the protagonist of Tigermilk‘s “We Rule the School”—“You know the world is made for men/Not us.”
Since the band’s inception, he’s crafted expository character sketches, nonjudgmental portraits of boys who overeat (“Lord Anthony”), girls with sexual guilt (“Judy and the Dream of Horses”), and has done so in a manner thoroughly devoid of cheap sentimentality. His characters are emotionally damaged, but they don’t feel sorry for themselves, and they’re crafted in three dimensions, never reduced to cheap caricatures. On Write About Love, he’s in a more traditionally romantic mode, but nonetheless maintains his keen eye for the minutiae of relationships, while never denying the complexity of the attendant emotions.
Only Murdoch could get away with writing a lyric like “You calculating bimbo/I wish you’d let the past go” without sounding like a world class creep as he does on the scarred Felt-like ballad “Calculating Bimbo.” “I Want the World to Stop” is a spectacular number in the vein of “Sleep the Clock Around,” ornate without becoming needlessly garish, as he obsessively croons, “I want to write a message to you every day at 10 o’clock in the evening,” sounding like a man who’s loved and lost and doesn’t want it to go away again.
“What a waste, I could’ve been your lover/What a waste, I could’ve been your friend,” he sings over the first bars of “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John,” a duet with Norah Jones that exhibits how Belle and Sebastian are no longer the insular band of quixotic romantic daydreamers they once were. Life gets bigger. Band members have left, married, and even had kids. But Murdoch hasn’t lost his romantic idealism, and when the song closes with a reprise of the opening couplet, it assumes a more sinister feel as Jones answers this time as a rejoinder, “What a waste, I could’ve been your friend,” and all those memories of missed opportunities and wasted youth come flooding back in a deluge of flashbulbs. (

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