TWO SUMMERS ago, I went to the End of the Road festival. Amongst a packed bill of greats like David Byrne & St. Vincent, Eels, Sigur Ros, Frightened Rabbit and Warpaint, the most devastating choice that the audiences were forced to make was on the last night between main stage headliners, Belle and Sebastian and second stage headliners Dinosaur Jr. Eventually it was settled that we would watch half of Belle and Sebastian and half of Dinosaur Jr. While I loved both bands there was part of me that wonders what my experience would half been like had I attended the whole B & S gig. There is something quite joyous and life-affirming about the Belle and Sebastian gigs that, debatably, is not often translated to their records and tend to be often more melancholy affairs. Which brings us to the wonderfully titled Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, their newest record and their first since 2010’s Carey Mulligan deploying Write About Love. Let me tell you ahead of time, it’s alright.
A lot of this album is classic B & S: full of literary allusions and fluttering flutes and the mid-part of the album where other people on the band are allowed to sing and you’re reminded how great a frontman Stuart Murdoch is. The band has never been more successful at making a proper pop album: the production is smooth, the hooks are clean and some songs might even have room for (gasp) a singalong. It’s a very listenable record. I’m struggling to reconcile the fact that this is a band that I love and have done for a long time with how disappointingly middle-of-the-road the material is. Belle and Sebastian have hit a point in their career where they can coast with only minor formula tweaks but just imagine how wonderful it could be for them to try something bold and beautiful. I would love to see them try and fail at something new than going through the motions.
There’s not really a lot to say about this record as it’s just pure fun. This isn’t the best album they’ve ever produced but in terms of pure pop, it succeeds. Its main problem is its pleasant and that’s about it. Having listened to it now twice, my main desire is to go back and re-listen to If You’re Feeling Sinister or Dear Catastrophe Waitress not to stick it on replay again. I’m not saying it’s a bad album as I’m not sure if B&S are fully capable of making anything without any worth but there is the potential for it to be something more. The album is a sharp, crisp production with some interesting turns for them as they explore more electronic sounds and come off as the world’s most intelligent europop band but there is nothing of substance; it’s like a really enjoyable desert that you don’t regret eating but afterwards, you kind of wish you’d had something a bit more filling.