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    Belle and Sebastian:

    The Life Pursuit

    Fri, 10 Feb 2006 14:46:21

    Songs from This Album

    "Another Sunny Day"

    Album Reviews: The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian

    Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2003's predecessor to The Life Pursuit, was a polarizing album for Belle & Sebastian fans. On one hand, the band had never sounded more elastic and seldom sounded livelier. On the other, they'd also never sounded so…well, not themselves.

    New B&S producer Tony Hoffer is also no stranger to divisiveness, having recently helmed a bloated album by former crit-darlings Idlewild and alienated a few Beck and Supergrass fans along the way, as well. Surprisingly, then, this combination of a band at a crossroads and a producer with a spotty track record has resulted in a perfectly comfortable album. It's a confident step forward for Stuart Murdoch, one that recognizes that to embrace the future you don't have to wholly renounce the past.

    Indeed, some of the highlights from The Life Pursuit wouldn't sound out of place on pre-Storytelling albums. "Dress Up In You" is a pretty piano vignette that comes closest to what would be considered the band's signature sound, especially as it builds to a stately horn section and a final verse featuring high female harmonies over Murdoch's expressive lead vocal. "Another Sunny Day" is a relentlessly peppy pop tune with a reliably biting, literate lyrical underside. Murdoch remains the rare frontman worth reading. But, as always, there's plenty on the listener's plate beyond exposition.

    Although Murdoch has essentially reinvented his band -- following some key lineup changes -- the notion that Belle & Sebastian have grown into a multi-faceted band within the last few years is disingenuous. They were always more ambitious than the "twee" tag would suggest, and the evidence was especially easy to find on their singles ("Lazy Line Painter Jane" or "Jonathan David," for example).

    With that said, Murdoch still finds some new wardrobes on The Life Pursuit. "The Blues Are Still Blue" is a snappy piece of '70s glam. "White Collar Boy" also brings the rock, riding an electronic buzz and a big group sing-along as the percussion stomps along and the guitars build to a big (albeit background) climax.

    Other forays aren't successful, but they're still mildly fun. "Sukie in the Graveyard" is a charming character study with an attention-grabbing guitar solo -- yup, guitar solo -- at its middle, but languishes because the vocals feel too crowded and the arrangement, too, is overly busy. The lite-radio soul of "Song For Sunshine" also doesn't make much of an impression; these moments are when the band comes closest to duplicating the more affected elements of Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

    In this case, though, the misfires are hardly cause for alarm; they're just the side effects of taking chances, keeping playful and moving forward. The Life Pursuit is the most important record Belle & Sebastian have added to their catalog in a good number of years. Even better, it's also the most fun -- and that seems to be true for the makers as well as the listeners. -- Adam McKibbin, The Red Alert

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