News of a two cd compilation of singles and b-sides otherwise largely unavailable made me think once again about this strange band.... around 1997 i started reading about belle and sebastian left and right.. a buzz began to build and they made some end of year best of lists.. based on this info i went out and bought "if you're feeling sinister" and was bowled over...if you've heard the album you know what i'm talking about and if you haven't i don't really know what to say!..great catchy melodic pop/folk songs with incisive highly introspective lyrics.. the anti- ac/dc band if there ever was one.. stuart murdoch's lyrics are highly personal and honest and not the work of an alpha male... belle and sebastian, lyrically, had something in common with morrissey and nick drake...(at the time i was looking for these types of penetrating lyrics whereas now feel this twee/fey introspection is killing rock and roll.. i will admit to a contradiction i have yet to resolve.. it does not invalidate this post but raises questions...)
when i went and hunted down their three cd singles - each with three b-sides- i found them to be just as good if not better!... "string bean jean" in particular to this day remains one of my favorite songs and gives me goosebumps... i've always been a sucker for b-sides and respected bands that put out quality b sides (the smiths and the cure come to mind)... a fourth cd single to be released a year later contained "this is just a modern rock song" which also tore me apart but pretty much every early song (cd 1 of this upcoming 2 cd compilation) stands out...
then i had to get my hands on the at this point out of print (the 1000 original lp copies were commanding incredible prices on ebay) "tigermilk".. their first album and reason for the genesis of the band.. apparently the university of glasgow or some scottish institution of higher learning had a contest and stuart murdoch put some people together and submitted tigermilk as an art project...well i found someone through the internet who happened to have the tape and we did an exchange.. she happened to work at dc city paper right next to where i lived at the time..how is that for coincidence?... well, tigermilk is every bit as good as "if you're not feeling sinister" .. and features another of my favorite songs of all time "my wandering days are over" but they are all pretty much aces.... by this point i was catatonic!.. i mean here was a band that had released about 30 songs and every single one hit the mark!... every single one had something to offer!....and they did it all with class...withan independent streatk...even the sleeves or covers had a clear consistent belle and sebastian imprint/identity.. they reminded me 100% of the smiths..their way of doing things was very similar..
in addition, a very nice thing was going on.. i was in my late 20s.. having fun as pretty much seemed everyone else.....anyone i would turn on to belle and sebastian would end up loving them too and they would turn on people who in turn..yah you guessed it..i'll stop.... for some reason belle was able to tap into some zeitgeist or something during the late 1990s that really led it to become a shared enjoyable touchstone for most of my circle...all this added a feeling of community to the whole thing.. its hard to describe it but trust me it was there.. we would have a party and end up playing and singing "get me away from here i'm dying" at 2 am...it happened...we had a lot of fun back then..
if this was a movie... we would be at about the midpoint..hooping it up...but some ominous signs- foreshadowing- would be appearing..perhaps an exchange of heated words between stuart murdoch and some other far inferior band member?. the fun ride would be over... the audience would get a sense that problems were ahead (curiously enough some of the band's problems eventually were reflected in my circle).... but things would still be going allright so we'd repress our doubts
however, when "boy with the arab strap" was released, and i know some if not most people will disagree with me.. some people hold this to be their masterwork and fair enough...its a very very good album (a four out of five star album..nothing shabby)...but i was a bit dissapointed- for the first time by belle (other than their reluctance to tour)- some of the lesser talents in the band were being allowed to sing and write songs...i'm thinking of stuart something or other and i can't remember the name of some other band member- stevie jackson there it is- and isobel campbell who i know some of my friends absolutely idolized.. but i found her singing generally insipid... she's just not a great singer.. she's a whisperer!..of course its very cool to have a chick in the band.. no disputing that...anyways songs like "seymour stein" really drag the album (plus its a silly thing to write a song about: so they rebuffed sire boss seymour stein's overtures to sign the band.. so what?)... and although most of the album is stellar - to my eyes- they were no longer batting 100%.... when you have a few songs in an album that are crap it dooms the whole thing...the aura of invincibility around this band.. the "they can do no wrong" was melting away..
and this is the point in the movie where things start going down the drain.. if you've seen oliver stone's film the doors you know what i'm talking bout... this is the point where we start seeing scenes with a ranting bleary eyed fat drunk jim morrison....
the next album "fold your hands child you look like a peasant" featured even more contributions from other band members!..this album, save for a song here or there ("i fought in a war" is vintage VINTAGE belle), was abysmal.. . to my eyes belle went from the stuart murdoch project to a collective.. the collective served to limit stuart murdoch.. they never recovered even with isobel leaving and stuart taking charge again (now he's ripping off cliff richards songs..for fuck's sake)... its been sad following them the past few years.. i used to run to the store to buy whatever they put out... they could do no wrong.. nowadays when i see a new belle single i don't even buy it.. so has my faith been shaken with some real lame singles like "legal man" and "stuart david"....
if i was making the movie the ending would go back to the magical period and relive it.. maybe as the credits were rolling...
for the 1996-1999 period i believe belle was the most wonderful magical thing going!.. and i am forever grateful to them... when you taste the glory..when you feel that ecstasy you just assume it can go on forever... this compilation of course will highlight exactly what i'm talking about.. the first cd is gold.. it does not get any better.. the second disc is largely crap...however if stuart murdoch wanted to take the band in a different direction that was his prerogative...i always prefer an artist to be true to his vision than mine... thank you stuart murdoch from the bottom of my musical heart for all the great tunes....they came in very handy..
below the story from the NME and for the official belle and sebastian bio go here
BELLE & SEBASTIAN are to release a double album of every track from every EP and single released during their time with JEEPSTER.
‘Push Barman To Open Old Wounds’ is released on May 23 and compiles the songs as they were released in chronological order.
The tracklisting runs:
‘Dog On Wheels’
‘The State I Am In’
‘String Bean Jean’
‘Belle & Sebastian’
‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’
‘You Made Me Forget My Dreams’
‘A Century Of Elvis’
‘A Century of Fakers’
‘Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie’
‘Put The Book Back On the Shelf’
‘This Is Just A Modern Rock Song’
‘I Know Where The Summer Goes’
‘Judy Is A Dickslap’
‘Take Your Carriage Clock And Shove It’
‘The Loneliness of the Middle Distance Runner’
‘I’m Waking Up To Us’
‘I Love My Car’
‘Marx And Engels’
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