Write About Love by Belle & Sebastian
Though it could be argued that the uncanniness of music, its quality of unfamiliar familiarity, is what most attracts and endears us to it, it might also be true that some songwriters merely borrow from those of the past, unapologetically, to no artful purpose and with no justification, simply to take credit for the ideas of others. Falling somewhere between tasteful homage and potential copyright foul are the Scottish septet Belle & Sebastian — postmodern rock-and-rollers who have forged a highly distinctive, deeply personal and instantly recognizable aesthetic from the chewed up, digested and internalized sounds of the past.
Pretty much every Belle & Sebastian album features a handful of explicitly plagiarized melodies and guitar riffs, but no one rips off '70s AM radio quite like they do. Perhaps most widely known as that band whose songs sometimes appear in "offbeat" rom-coms of the late 2000s, the Glaswegians have been plugging away for the past 14 years, drifting from the folk-pop inspired sounds of their sophomore album, the cult classic If You're Feeling Sinister, to the scattershot musical kaleidoscopes of 2003's critically acclaimed Dear Catastrophe Waitress and their last album, 2006's The Life Pursuit.
Their latest, Write About Love, finds them, once more, refusing to settle for any particular genre, opting to switch every few tracks and, in some cases, every few bars. Opening track "I Didn't See It Coming" starts out pleasantly enough — coursing the familiar roads of gentle, sunny retro piano pop before breaking down into too much guitar. And as for the question of tasteful homage, if you find yourself doffing your Tam o' Shanter to John Denver's "Annie's Song" — as the group does on the acceptable "I Want the World to Stop" — it's time to start asking some very serious questions. For the first time in their career, Murdoch and company sound bored and proceed to bore.
After the forgettable "Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John" — which is somewhat resuscitated by the appearance of Norah Jones doing some kind of Stevie Nicks impression — comes the first great track, the magical, frothy "Write About Love," a duet between Murdoch and English actress Carey Mulligan that sounds like the theme music to some kind of '70s television show — but what post-2003 Belle & Sebastian song doesn't?
The album's second half seems to harbor stronger material. Following the aforementioned title track is the album's best song, guitarist and occasional lead singer Stevie Jackson's "I'm Not Living In The Real World," the worth-a-faint-smile "The Ghost of Rockschool" and the sweetly anodyne "Read the Blessed Pages." All in all, not a disappointment.