Music Reviews
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

Belle & Sebastian Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance

(Matador) Rating - 7/10

No one can accuse Stuart Murdoch of laziness. Fresh from his God Help The Girl project, which added the tag of writer-director to his resume, he still managed to come up with a new batch of tunes. Concerns about blunted creative instincts should be dispelled by Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance, a well-crafted collection that is far more coherent than 2010’s Write About Love. This still doesn’t place the album among the group’s best, but it’s a move in the right direction.

This time around, Belle and Sebastian have revamped the rhythm section with sounds rooted in the dance-pop of the 70s and 80s. This is less worrisome than Dylan going electric, considering the band’s previous forays into the dance field. Nine albums on, it’s a good thing to shun familiarity and tackle new moves. The results, however, are mixed. The Party Line bursts with kinetic energy, with a synth riff and a strong backbeat that even reluctant booties would find hard to resist. Stevie Jackson’s Perfect Couples is another winner, its polyrhythmic structure strong enough to support a Chic-style guitar and myriad hooks. Less successful is Enter Sylvia Plath, which overstays its welcome with a stale Giorgio Moroder beat. The Everlasting Muse fares better, but the mismatch of bossa nova with Russian folk music has nothing to do with anything.

Notwithstanding the dance tunes, the net is cast wide, and hipsters aren’t excluded. The lyrics are less concerned with romantic failures, more attuned this time with the need to share love and embrace diversity. For instance, a song like Nobody’s Empire wouldn’t be out of place at a Charlie Hebdo march: “If we live by books and we live by hope, does that make us targets for gunfire?”. Allie, with a Kinks-style arrangement, adopts a woman’s point of view. The Cat With The Cream is an epic meditation on peace, the power of prayer, and living under Tory rule. The value of friendship finds its placard on The Power Of Three. Those craving cynicism should look elsewhere.

There’s enough here to please die-hard fans. Ever Had A Little Faith is classic Stuart Murdoch, with melancholy vocals and plaintive strings. He’s become a better singer, not just because he hits the high notes better but for his expressive phrasing. The years since open-mike nights have also broadened his outlook. Maturity yields wisdom, and Murdoch has a sizeable crop. His tone is optimistic on songs like Play For Today, but it’s the kind that demands new believers and hard work to affect change. That conspiracy of hope is further explored on the atmospheric Today (This Army’s For Peace). Its echoey mix evokes a quiet sunset on the beach, its unhurried melody a soothing balm for our troubled times.