Belle & Sebastian have almost been around now for 20 years, and the time has come for that ‘difficult’ 9th album. Thankfully that stereotype in the music world doesn’t exist. In fact the only fear that fans really have to contend with is the possibility that Belle & Sebastian have slipped in to automatic mode and created something uncharacteristically uninspiring. Thankfully, again, that stereotype in the music world doesn’t exist. So with their new LP, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, the Scottish 6-piece have delivered a bout of material that simultaneously cements and questions everything you know about them. In other words, girls, it’s time to get your dance on.
Unfortunately though it isn’t quite yet time to slip on those dance shoes, as opening tracks ‘Nobody’s Empire’ and ‘Allie’ are like the Belle & Sebastian of old. Both songs embody the reason fans fell for the band in the first place, with the usual whimsical indie musings of Stuart Murdoch ever present. It isn’t until ‘The Party Line’ that the groove truly begins to flow.
A mid-tempo disco beat that embodies the meaning of funk, ‘The Party Line’ shows a resolute attitude in what the band are trying to achieve. Next up is ‘Enter Sylvia Plath’, the opening of which sounds like Garth Marenghi on a mission, galloping over the moors. Garth Marenghi channelled through the whimsical indie musings of Stuart Murdoch that is. The song continues to hurtle through until it reaches its final frontier, one of sci-fi synth proportions. The final dance instalment, ‘Play for Today’, sees the band mirroring the Pet Shop Boys, an interesting effort that just falls short despite both Murdoch and Sarah Martin on vocal duties.
While the band have added dance to their cocktail mix of genres there are still further additions to explore on the rest of the record. ‘The Cat with the Cream’ is a track that mixes steady drumming and gentle guitar with rising emotional violins. This feels like a song with the potential to soundtrack future ‘inspiring’ adverts like a M83 record, however it gratefully doesn’t culminate in that, and instead captures the stirring melancholy of Belle & Sebastian.
However the most interesting inclusion is ‘The Everlasting Muse’. The track casually begins with jazz influenced double bass/drums, followed by an Eastern European folk chorus and then an echoed trumpet solo, reminiscent of a Western dream sequence. This track best captures how this is Belle & Sebastian’s most challenging record, with so many genres fighting for equal attention.
Although some tracks on the record are not perfect this is still a stimulating direction for the band, one that will excite old fans and intrigue new ones. Last year the band was awarded an ‘Outstanding Contribution To Music Award’ at the NME awards, and with a record like this it’s easily justified.