on 16 July 2007
On first inspection the Amazon's favourable comparison to the Smiths and the Velvet Underground seems a little generous. And while the lyrical concerns bear resemblance to those of Morrissey and Stuart Murdoch's vocals make for a less smokey Nick Drake, Belle & Sebastian don't quite reach that songwriting bracket. Nevertheless, the Boy with the Arab Strap is a real grower, and after a few listens its melodic hooks start to catch. They excel at making music so seemingly light and effortless gradually leave its indelible mark on the heart and mind. Bleak stories of everyday failure and regret add a bitter taste to the unflinching prettiness of the music. Stuart Murdoch and Isobel Campbell aren't quite the odd couple of Lou Reed and Nico (or even Morrissey / Marr) but they make revisionist pop as dreamily saccharin as the Velvets.
'It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career' marries the Velvets' prototype dream-pop with Nick Drake's jazzier sensibilities, the folksy acoustic guitar slowly embellished with piano and alt-country tinges. 'Sleep the Clock Around' builds sweetly shimmering electronics and piano around a delicate melodic refrain. Swelling into a blissful synth and trumpet driven finale, this is where my Belle and Sebastian preconceptions went out of the window. 'Is It Wicked Not To Care' features Isobel Campbell on vocals and summery, breezy orchestrations. Despite the relative lushness of the musicianship on songs like this, it always feels loose and spontaneous, never top-heavy or over-produced. 'Seymour Stein' is like the Velvets' 'Pale Blue Eyes', with some lovely summery organs, piano and horns. 'Space Boy Dream' begins with a cryptic spoken-word sample and turns into a jazzy instrumental David Axelrod would be proud of. 'Dirty Dream Number Two' has a propulsive stomp and nice upbeat horn arrangements, reminiscent of Nick Drake's Bryter Layter.
While the invariability of the mood and the lack of vocal range can make the it a little samey, it is a gorgeous and uplifting record all the same. I was expecting something much more fey and brooding than this but it is really quite a revelation. If you like this you might like Feist's 'The Reminder' or Lambchop's 'Nixon' as well.
This 1998 album (their third) from these Glaswegian tunesmiths is another invigorating slice of poetic pop, containing a collection of songs once again peppered with witty and idiosyncratic lyrics and infectious melodies. For me, whilst Arab Strap does not quite exhibit the level of consistent brilliance of the band's debut album Tigermilk, it still warrants a five star rating since it contains some of my favourite ever songs by the band.
The album is also notable as lead vocal duties are shared between the band more widely than before, with Stevie Jackson singing on Seymour Stein, a nicely ironic parody of the jet-setting head of Sire Records ('Has he ever seen Dundee?') and on the similarly witty (although musically less inspired) Chickfactor, a send-up of New York highlife ('She's five hours behind'). Each of Is It Wicked Not To Care? (on which Isobell Campbell takes on lead vocal duties), Ease Your Feet Into The Sea, A Summer Wasting and Simple Things are trademark Belle & Sebastian, primarily acoustic-based, strong melodies and intimate lyrics (although the brevity of Simple Things belies what could have been an absolute stonker of a song). On the other hand, A Space Boy Dream is something of a bizarre (but undoubtedly original, and increasingly appealing) interlude, being essentially a jazzily futuristic instrumental, over which Stuart David relates his (spoken) dream of a journey to Mars.
However, my favourite songs on Arab Strap are a quartet which (for me) rank with the very best music this band has produced. Of the perhaps more conventional songs, album opener It Could Have Been A Brilliant Career showcases Stuart Murdoch's sublimely fragile vocal in a tale of lost opportunity, whilst the more renowned title song is a rhythmically, infectious masterpiece, with its eccentric story of a London underworld of drunks, racists and prison lags. But my two standouts really demonstrate that this band can be something of a musical powerhouse (albeit, an intelligent and subtle one) when they wish. Both Sleep The Clock Around and Dirty Dream Number Two retain the band's very particular approach to musical arrangement - harmony and spoken vocals, novel instrumentation (bagpipes, no less), lush strings, sonorous brass, evocative lyrics - whilst, still retaining the knack of sounding (surely) like someone else you've heard, but can't quite put the finger on, to provide two veritably outstanding pop music gems.
It's truly great stuff.
on 5 November 2002
First of all, it's quite difficult for me to review Belle & Sebastian, they're my favorite band, by far.
This album amongst everything they've ever produced is a gem. If you're into gentle and harmonious pop music... I find it quite difficult to find words but Stuart Murdoch and Isobel Campbell are wonderful singers... it's simple, honest, deep, considerate beauty altogether. It's very human; the sort of band which changes your life or at least how you look at it anyway - it did for me and for a few of my friends who are found of B&S. It's both refreshing, despairing, have some of the most beautiful and witty lyrics in pop music...
I would consider Boy with the Arab Strap as my favorite B&S album as a lot of my favorite tracks are there, Ease your feet is pure melancholy, Rollercoaster ride is amazing, fantastic lyrics. It just makes the difference in this shallow world we live in, very reassuring to hear that... well... it's not. It's prescription for your heart and soul, to meditate.
on 23 June 2015
Belle & Sebastian's most famous album? It's certainly the one that marked their emergence into the mainstream after they infamously won Best Newcomer at the Brit Awards in 1999 (beating some huge names in the process). And, to this day, it's title track is probably their best-known song, not least because it was used as the theme tune of the popular Channel 4 (UK) TV series Teachers. The popularity of the album is justified though. From the dreamy Sleep The Clock Around, the rousing A Summer Wasting and the stomping Dirty Dream Number Two, many of B&S' greatest songs are here. And with fantastic turns from Isobel Campbell (the delicate Is It Wicked Not To Care?), Stevie Jackson (the funny ode to the 'record company man' Seymour Stein) and Stuart David (the trippy spoken word A Space Boy Dream), it proved for the first time that Stuart Murdoch wasn't the only talented songwriter in the group. Classic.
on 20 September 2001
Stuart Murdoch and co are what all other bands should aspire to be. They have never drastically changed their musical formula of beautiful, downbeat instrumental arangements, and yet all their songs sound wonderfully fresh. Added to this are witty lyrics that at times can only be described as sublime poetry. This record, arguably their best work, builds on their earlier albums, and also contains some more experimental material, combining an electric piano and bagpipes on "Sleep the clock around". It also contains the B&S songwriting debuts of Stevie Jackson ("Seymour Stein" and "Chickfactor") and Isobel Campbell ("Is it wicked not to care"). Other highlights include the lushious, beautiful ode to loneliness "Dirty dream number two", the short but sweet "Simple Things", the soothing "Rollercoaster Ride" and the Jazzy title track. I would reccomend it to anyone
on 10 April 2013
You will love it or hate it, I love it, great album, great title track, classic stuff and you will I am sure soon start to hear bits of this album having been lifted into TV programs as background music
on 27 September 1999
Belle & Sebastian rescue indie music from the dreadful dead-end of post-Oasis pub-rock with this fantastic, tune-drenched, Northern Soul knowing, sexy, poignant, bomb of an album. Nothing touches this.
on 15 January 2004
I bought this album at the recommendation of a friend, at upon first listening, wasn't overly impressed, being a usual fan of rock music.
However, once I had played it a few times, and actually *listened* to the album, its quiet, beautiful lyrics and rich, almost classical-at-times music melted my heart. Listening to this album with your eyes closed felt like being allowed to float through somebody elses dream; so beautiful is this music and strong its imagery.
on 2 January 2007
Some albums change your life; "Nevermind The Bollocks", "Appetite For Destruction" and "Maxinequaye" are some of those that have touched me deeply and made me a different person. "The Boy With The Arab Strap" did it for me, in a quite remarkable and totally unique way. I'd actually bought it by mistake (like I imagine quite a lot of people did, meaning to buy an album by Arab Strap), but listened to it and was impressed by the lush literacy of the lyrics, and of the delicate orchestration and musicianship. Although my favourite band was the Beatles, I'd generally considered myself a rocker (from punk through to prog), so this was a major turnaround, but that's what a great band can do you to.
It'd seemed like B&S had come out of nowhere, but this was by now their third album, and the one where they reached critical mass, both in terms of popularity (incredibly winning the "Best Newcomer" in the 1997 Brits) and in quality (this is a far richer album musically than "If You're Feeling Sinister", and probably their best).
Their territory is poetic short-stories, about losers coming good, or about people out of their depth, with beautifully-written, waspish vingnettes. Although the vocals sound very delicate, the lyrics can sting. The contrast between soaring, uplifting music and biting words can be highly effective, and undercuts the emptional effect.
The first song, "It Could Have Been A Brillian Career" sets the tone. It opens, the sound down very low, with fey vocals, with guitar and electric piano joining in. A song about losers of various types ("He had a stroke at the age of 24 / It could have been a brilliant career"), it's enriched by fanastic harmonies and further instrumentation, ending musically upbeat even as it laments another life ending sadly ("And you can tell by the way she looks / he is sorry and resigned / As he wets himself for the final time").
This is quickly followed by one of their greatest moments, "Sleep The Clock Around", a song about losers and nobodies who could, just maybe could, be somebodies. Opening slowly, the vocals low and murmuring, it gradually builds in colour, charge, potency and musical richness, to a bridge, saying "Then you go to the place where you've finally found /
You can look at yourself sleep the clock around". It ends of an incedible feeling of hope, defiance, yearning, wishing and desire, articulated (and what's incredible is that it's not embarrassing) by a bagpipe's wail. Incredible, a song of the most highest order, articulate to the highest degree, worthy of The Beatles or the Velvet Underground.
Asides from the songs by Stuart Murdoch (most of them) and Steve Jackson (the rest), there are a few sung by Isobel Campbell, as is the third song, "Is IT Wicked Not To Care?". It's gorgeously delicate, shimmering like the lightest cobwebs in a winter sun.
Other highlighs of the album include "Dirty Dream #2", where the waspish lyrics are again undercut by the remarkable music, which ends on an extended coda, the soaring strings shimmering in beautiful tremelo, evoking delight and purest joy. Incredible. Then there's a few wonderful little vignettes, such as "Seymour Stein", a no-thank-you to the record exec, with lines as brilliantly parochial as "Has he ever seen Dundee?" Then there's a failure-with-women ode, "Chickfactor", with rejection written off as well as "Met the cigarette girl- took a note of her charms / But no cigar" and "Met the Indie-Cool Queen / Took me out of the bar and showed me the scene".
Belle and Sebastian have some of the greatest gifts of any band I've ever heard - finer lyricists than Morrissey, greater musically than Nick Drake, as poetic as Larkin (both transform the everday into something numinous), as acute an eye as Roger Waters, as imaginative as John Lennon. This is to me the finest album of the 1990s and will echo down the generations, a shimmering, exhalted gift to the poets and dreamers.
on 26 May 2006
This is a fantastic album. Some friends got it for me for Christmas and after listening to it a few times, totally fell in love with it. The lyrics are simply amazing. The first song "could have been a brilliant career" is great. Each track is fantastic. My favourite is "sleep the clock around" which has a great tune and brilliant lyrics. Mostly mellow-ish music with a quirky feel. Any fan of real music will find this album worth it.