Belle and Sebastian

The Life Pursuit

What happened to the old Stuart Murdoch? Where did he go? I'm serious -- is there some new guy that's taken his place who looks and sounds just like him? The reason I ask is because after six full-length LPs, Belle and Sebastian's seventh finally seems, well, happy, and that's no slight achievement for a band whose arguably most popular song is titled "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying." But there's not much of that sort of melancholy on The Life Pursuit, except maybe on the one track that isn't sung by Murdoch (which is, coincidentally, the worst song on the album).

Instead of getting the word "cry" in every other song like on If You're Feeling Sinister, one of two albums that vie to be everyone's favorite Belle and Sebastian record (alongside Tigermilk, which doesn't actually feature any crying but is pretty unhappy anyway), we get two tracks with the word "sun" in the title ("Another Sunny Day" and "Song for Sunshine"). Instead of the soft, weepy piano chords of "Fox in the Snow," we've got something that might actually be considered a pretty bitching guitar solo in "Sukie in the Graveyard." No more resigned, dejected lyrics like "Well, who could blame her if she sleeps?... Your life is never dull in your dreams." That sort of end-of-a-loaded-gun poetry is gone on The Life Pursuit, replaced by quick tempos and bright guitars.

That isn't to say that none of the lyrics on the album are a little depressing -- the same sort of themes of alienation and disaffection are still there. But it is hard to believe that "the blues are still blue" when the song, which does feature a fairly typical blues progression, sounds so upbeat that you can't really imagine Murdoch singing it without a grin. Or "For the Price of a Cup of Tea," which comes as close to sounding like a kid's song as any on the album, but still manages to sneak a "tears" in there. And "Sukie in the Graveyard," the one with the bitching guitar solo, is about a girl who, well, likes to hang out in graveyards. You don't get much more alienated than that.

So fine, some of the lyrics are still kind of grim, although much less so than those of Belle and Sebastian's past. But something's happened to make even the most pouty of couplets seem vaguely uplifting anyway; everything ends up sounding triumphant or cathartic or some other emotion that lets you justify being in a good mood when you listen to this record. Maybe it's just due to the fact that Murdoch allowed the band to have a bigger influence in the songwriting this time around. But whatever it is, Belle and Sebastian have made the transition from their downhearted debut and mopey sophomore release, through the kind-of-odd and not-too-good efforts of the Storytelling and Dear Catastrophe Waitress era, to something no one ever thought a Belle and Sebastian album could ever be: fun.

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