Write About Love

The Scottish band Belle and Sebastian have been producing great pop music for 15 years but only in the last several years have they begun to build an American audience beyond a small cult fan base. The 2006 release The Life Pursuit helped grab some of the spotlight but even more attention came the band’s way thanks to the placement of two of its songs on the Juno soundtrack. For Write About Love Belle and Sebastian reteam with Tony Hoffer who produced its last album.

Love is the most common subject that writers of all disciplines return to again and again plumbing the depth of that most esteemed and often reviled emotion. But when Belle and Sebastian write about love you know its reach will extend beyond moony ballads or angry retorts. B&S are far too complex a band to slide into easy sentimentality or cliques. In the hands of this band love is a complex motivation for life choices, the kind that help create families, friendships, and economic realities.

Belle & Sebastian’s musical and lyrical sensibility is established by founder, songwriter, and singer Stuart Murdoch. His songs have always left room for ambiguity; whether about sexuality, religion, or politics, it’s difficult to categorize the band’s direction or intentions. There’s no easy niche for the B&S’ music, either. Inspiration seems to come from corners as diverse as Nick Drake to The Smiths, to Petula Clark. Multi-layered production features lots of strings and horns as well as synthesized keyboards, bass, guitar, and drums.

Write About Love opens with “I Didn’t See It Coming” which establishes the band’s approach to its subject matter as well as the album’s musical pacing. “We don’t have the money/money makes the world go round/forget about it honey,” sings Sarah Martin. Murdoch joins in and Stevie Jackson’s happy pop guitar licks chime in joined by synch-keyboards. Murdoch trades off vocals with both Martin and Jackson. Jackson’s vocals on “I’m Not Living In the Real World” offer a nice alternative male vocal presence. The album features a couple of surprise guest vocalists. Oscar nominated Brit Actress Carey Mulligan duets with Murdoch on the title track (and first single in the U.K.). Norah Jones, a seemingly unlikely figure on a B& S record, sounds great on “Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John.”

Murdoch reflects on young love and the lessons taught from those earliest yearnings on “The Ghost of Rockschool.” “Read the Blessed Pages” feels the most personal as Murdoch sings about a former lover in the band. It’s this kind of quiet reflection that, juxtaposed with “Calculating Bimbo,” suggests just how divergent the band’s attitudes about love can be.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)