Belle and Sebastian – Push Barman To Open Old
This chronicle of Belle and Sebastian EPs and singles since 1997 is a timely reminder of how much this band (recently voted the best band in Scottish musical history – at least it wasn't Travis) are really worth. They are probably the biggest reason most indie-pop bands of the last 8 years are doing what they are. Their demeanour and token twee reticence have inspired a small generation of fey indie kids to fill their diet with lollypops and warble about the girl they almost copped off with at the last school disco. Bands everywhere were wishing that they came from Bellshill. It is because of this that Belle and Sebastian were and still are an undeniably important band.
The songs on this compilation are remarkably consistent in their success as tiny snapshots into slightly seedy coming-of-age scenarios. Lazy Line Painter Jane is the standout on the first CD, a tale of a slutty young lady whose line in 'being brutal' in her rebellion doesn't sit too comfortably. This song is helped enormously by the wonderfully sailing vocal performance by Monica Queen from Motherwell band Thrum (remember them? Thought not
), but it is the sympathetic thematic treatment to such a dark subject that really elevates it. Stuart Murdoch's lyrics are sublime throughout this collection, even if the music does tend to get a little sickly at times (Beautiful, for example, is not quite as appealing as its title). To accentuate this, Belle and Sebastian's musical 'problems' were widely discussed in the music press. They were seen, like Teenage Fanclub, to be stagnating in their own adherence to a successful formula. There was a believable argument stating that the nature of the Bellshill movement was simply to drink Buckfast and write the prettiest love-songs possible. Belle and Sebastian couldn't really avoid this, being the flagship band of a very unfashionable musical culture.
With Push Barman, Belle and Sebastian go a long way in silencing any critics. The sheer quality of song-writing shines through nearly every song on this collection, with storming singles like This Is Just A Modern Rock Song and I'm Waking Up To Us proving that this band have always been much more than melodies. Whereas Teenage Fanclub or others would (and still do) write about broken-heartedness and the joys of new-found love with a load of sha-la-las thrown in for a laugh, Belle and Sebastian have always taken it a little further. Even though it's entirely instrumental, the title alone makes Judy Is A Dick Slap stand out as distinctly more aware and interesting than the rest of the twee pack. Throughout the two CDs, we are taken on an odyssey through backstreets, bars, boardrooms, playgrounds and a whole realm of youthful inadequacies surrounding, rather predictably, love and loss and life. The orchestral dimension to Belle and Sebastian's music is shown as a clear evolution throughout their career. Interestingly, the last few tracks sound as if they could have come from Dear Catastrophe Waitress, the culmination of their prowess with a beautiful melody, great instrumentation and a ripping tale to tell. In short, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds is a pure slice of evolutionary, not revolutionary, listening.
11 June 2005