May 05, 2022
By Austin Saalman
Belle and Sebastian’s first album recorded in its native Glasgow in over 20 years, A Bit of Previous demonstrates the group’s devotion to its roots. In this respect, the group’s 10th studio album feels both like a step forward and a welcome retrospective of the Scottish indie pop outfit’s earlier output, continuing its eclectic genre explorations and warm retro-inspired pop stylings. Still, one cannot help but feel that A Bit of Previous somehow falls short of its antecedents, swapping the solid composure and class of If You’re Feeling Sinister and Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance for a far cozier, though not necessarily evolved sound. That said, it remains an enjoyable listen and a few of its key tracks stand among the group’s absolute finest.
In the seven years since the group’s last full-length album, its members have not lost their touch, still delivering tight chamber pop compositions with clever lyrics and an inimitable indie flair. This is instantly evident on opening track “Young and Stupid,” a quintessential Belle and Sebastian tune, which addresses one of the album’s primary focuses: age. The track’s sunny indie pop melody masks its more melancholy lyrical implications, frontman Stuart Murdoch observing, “Nature has the lead/When you’re young and stupid/Nurture will impede/When you’re young and stupid,” Sarah Martin’s violin sounding as though it weeps across the very passage of time itself. The earnest wistfulness of the peppily baroque dance number “If They’re Shooting at You,” another standout, recalls criminally underrated Belle and Sebastian deep cut “Big John Shaft.” Here, Murdoch offers a bit of encouragement, as well as some of the album’s finest lines, assuring the listener, “If they’re shooting at you, kid/You must be doing something right.”
Martin shines on “Reclaim the Night,” which could very well have been a solid outtake from Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, and the stinging “Unnecessary Drama” again reminds the listener of the group’s signature wit. Elsewhere, lush piano ballad “Sea of Sorrow” and sunny neo-psychedelic mind-trip “Talk to Me, Talk to Me” are also prime cuts, entirely worthy of the group’s legacy. Both melodically and lyrically, however, the woefully reflective “Do It for Your Country” is A Bit of Previous’ top track, as well as one of Belle and Sebastian’s best songs. This charming ballad finds Murdoch quoting John F. Kennedy and delivering such pristine lines as, “The people you fall in love with, they’re never what they say” and “All he wants is to be near you/In between your thighs, somewhat mesmerized/Never underestimate your spell.” This track alone, an understated creative triumph for the group, makes the album worth the listen.
Less interesting, but still worthwhile inclusions “Prophets On Hold” and “Come On Home” recall various high points within the group’s career, but fail to reveal anything exceptional, while “A World Without You,” “Deathbed of My Dreams,” and “Working Boy in New York City” initially offer promise, but ultimately fail to remain in flight. None of these tracks are by any means poor quality, and Belle and Sebastian remains at the forefront of its genre, but this time around, we miss a certain aesthetic thrill, far more pronounced on earlier work.
Perhaps the group’s current state is best defined on A Bit of Previous’ opening track, on which Murdoch sings, “Now we’re old with creaking bones/Some with partners, some alone/Some with kids and some with dogs/Getting through the nightly slog.” Indeed, this drift from youth permeates the album, the group having witnessed three decades together. There’s a certain tediousness about the album’s weaker entries, perhaps the byproduct of that nightly slog. Regardless, the group sounds content, at-home, and in control of its form, which is more than can be said for many aging indie acts. A Bit of Previous is just that—an exercise in self-awareness by a band too intelligent to sell out, but certainly not impervious to the spell of nostalgia. (www.belleandsebastian.com)
Author rating: 7/10
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