Glasgow mavericks deliver a second dose of feel-good factor pop music within nine months, still imbued with their usual lyrical sobriety.
Barely nine months since the release of their last album ‘A Bit Of Previous’ and Glasgow’s indie misfits Belle & Sebastian have generated a fair level of surprise with a follow-up album ‘Late Developers’ recorded during the same session as its predecessor. However, this shouldn’t be seen as a mere afterthought or simply a collection of songs deemed not good enough for the original project but rather a natural if at times slightly haphazard extension of what ‘A Bit Of Previous’ hinted at last year.
The opening track ‘Juliet Naked’ was originally written back in 2018 for the Ethan Hawke film of the same name and bristles with an intensity supplied by a jagged electric guitar riff from Steve Jackson as Stuart Murdoch waxes lyrically about the trials of love while warning us about “Quicksand on the battlefield”. Sarah Martin takes the lead vocals on the following track ‘Give A Little Time’ and with its retro sixties feel offers a slice of pure pop replete with hand claps and singalong chorus encouraging the listener to leave the past in the past. Murdoch is in the vocal chair for the moodier, piano-driven ‘When We Were Young’, followed by the folkish ‘Will I tell You A Secret’ which draws comparisons with Donovan or even Ray Davies at his most whimsical. The guitar driven high energy of ‘So In The Moment’ continues to demonstrate the album’s myriad of musical styles with an almost carefree effortless approach from a band clearly high on self-confidence. In fact what marks this album out from their back catalogue is the emphasis on the collective contribution from all the members of the band enabling it to draw from a broader palette.
The album’s chameleon approach continues with the revved-up indie dance of ‘When Your Not With Me’ before we reach ‘I Don’t Know What You See In Me’ the first single to be taken from the album. Unusual in a sense for its contribution from an outside writer, in this case Peter Ferguson aka Wuh Oh, this track is full-on synth-pop with a singalong chorus that in truth barely stands up to repeat listening. The following number ‘Do You Follow’ with its disco beat is more interesting with the warmth of Murdoch and Martin’s vocals intertwined, yearning for eternal youth. Ironically the album reaches its zenith with track ten ‘When The Cynics Stare Back From The Wall’, a song originally written back in the early nineties when Murdoch was not long out of his teens and shines with the naivety of the lyrical narrative against an ambling chamber pop melody that this time is ably supported by Tracyanne Campbell, formerly of Camera Obscura. The title track closes the album with an ebullient feel complete with horns and gospel backing vocals that creates a sense of cathartic triumph.
‘Late Developers’ finds Belle & Sebastian reclaiming their position within the hierarchy of the indie rock scene, reinvigorating familiar lyrical themes while sonically still trying to stretch the musical boundaries beyond their usual signature sound. In doing so they have produced an album that despite the strength of the individual songs at times suffers from a lack of musical cohesiveness due to either the rather anything-goes approach that they’ve chosen to employ or the distinct possibility that these songs were in truth just the surplus from last years over productive recording session. However this is still an enjoyable listen with plenty to recommend it and clearly shows the band to be in the rudest of health.