The Boy with the Arab Strapby Belle and Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian quietly built a dedicated following after the release of their second album, If You're Feeling Sinister, as word of mouth spread from indie kids to record collectors to store clerks to critics. By the end of 1997, the Scottish septet had developed a following every bit as passionate as the Smiths did at their peak, which is only appropriate since leader Stuart Murdoch is as wittily literate as Morrissey. If You're Feeling Sinister proved this as did the three excellent EPs that followed, increasing expectations for The Boy With the Arab Strap. Even if the album doesn't match the peerless If You're Feeling Sinister or break new ground for Belle & Sebastian, it's not a sophomore slump. From the Motown stomp of "Dirty Dream Number Two" to the Paul Simon shuffle of the title track, there is more musical texture on Boy than Sinister, but much of this was already explored on the EPs, which means Arab Strap essentially consolidates the group's talents. Murdoch recedes from the spotlight on occasion, letting Steve Jackson deliver two music-biz spiels and giving Isobel Campbell space to shine with the lilting "Is It Wicked Not to Care?" All three songs are highlights, but Murdoch's songs still attract the most attention. His vicious wit, often overlooked in favor of his poetic narratives, surfaces on the title track, while "It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career" summarizes his effortless gift for elegant melancholia. Such small, precious gems are what Belle & Sebastian are all about, and The Boy With the Arab Strap offers another round of timeless, endlessly fascinating folk-pop treasures.
- Release Date:
- Matador Records
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If you are reading this you are probably already familiar with the music of the fabulous Belle and Sebastian. If not, then this album could be a turning point in your life. Belle and Sebastian write gorgeous folk-pop songs in the vein of Nick Drake, the Smiths and Love. The lyrics are filled with humor, wit, poetry and universal feelings of sadness, alienation and love. The opener, "It Could have Been a Brilliant Career," is a quiet song of regret over missed opportunities. Singer Stuart Murdoch's morose vocals are backed by spare piano, slide guitar and conga drum accompaniment. The next song is one of the best on the album and in the entire Belle and Sebastian catalog. "Sleep the Clock Around" discusses not fitting in with the 'cool' crowd and ends in a cacophony of squiggly synthesizers, bagpipes, trumpets and organs. Cellist (yes, I said cellist) Isobel Campbell makes her vocal debut on a Belle and Sebastian album in the next song, "Is it Wicked Not To Care?" This song contains a rather obvious reference to the late Nick Drake: the line "Would love me 'til I'm dead" also appears in his song "Northern Sky." Track four, "Ease Your Feet in the Sea", uses acoustic guitars, violin, glockenspiel and a lovely melody to veil its true subject: suicide. The album then progresses on into paens to record company execs and the New York indie scene, (Seymour Stein and Chickfactor, respectively), fully orchestrated odes to teenage wet dreams, (Dirty Dream Number 2) and even spoken-word experiments, (A Space Boy Dream.) But the best song on "The Boy With the Arab Strap" is, in my opinion, the autumnal title track. It is an ode to fellow Glasgow, Scotland natives and all the eccentricies and absurdities of life in modern day Britain. With its labyrinthine lyrics and rhythmic build-up of electric piano, organ and flute, it is one of the most compelling songs in the band's repetoire. While it is true that you would hear any of these tunes on the radio or on MTV, that doesn't matter to the members of Belle and Sebastian one bit. To quote their song "Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying", off of their second album, "You could either be successful or be us." I'd take the second choice any day.
Escape the reality that you are a worker bee by popping this in. Suddenly it's a sunny Saturday and you are flipping through old issues of the New Yorker while your coffee brews in your french press. Nothing short of bliss.