Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Belle & Sebastian

Rough Trade, 2003

http://www.belleandsebastian.com

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/25/2008

When it comes to the bleak months of winter, even us spoiled Californians can’t help but get a little blue having to let go of our beloved sun and surf for the dreary duration. So even though the lowest temperature dip here in lovely Los Angeles has been in the fifties, it still helps to have cheerful music on hand to lift the spirits. Enter Glaswegian imports Belle & Sebastian, whose signature upbeat and wistful indie-pop sound has landed them much critical appreciation since they formed in 1996.

Dear Catastrophe Waitress, the band’s fifth album, is a warm, instantly accessible blend of stick-in-your-head harmonies and hyper-literate lyrics. Take dynamic opener and lead single “Step Into My Office, Baby,” which hurtles through countless tempo changes in the span of four minutes, yet never manages to sound anything but seamless. Add on hilariously tongue-in-cheek lyrics unfolding an illicit boss-subordinate relationship (“Step into my office, baby/I’m going to give you the job/I’m pushing for a raise/I’ve been pushing now for days”) and you’ve got a gem of a track that sets the tone for the rest of the material to follow.bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250

Next up, the album’s title track is brimming with sunny energy, combining lyricist and lead singer Stuart Murdoch’s distinctive vocals with punchy touches of brass and a driving drum beat to create a polished pop sound. Meanwhile, I owe my introduction to Belle & Sebastian to the jangling, almost Caribbean beats of “If She Wants Me,” which features shimmers of guitar and some of the album’s best lyrics: “If I could do just one near perfect thing I’d be happy/They’d write it on my grave, or when they scattered my ashes/On second thoughts, I’d rather hang around and be there with my best friend/If she wants me,” Murdoch sings in his alluring, lilting voice, making this lovely, hopeful song one of the album’s standouts.

Belle & Sebastian turns to riffing on Thin Lizzy on “I’m A Cuckoo,” which bounces along to the same chord progression as “The Boys Are Back In Town” with twin dueling guitars and a loose, soul-pop beat that sounds straight out of the seventies. Surprisingly, the track’s lovelorn, ranting lyrics and Murdoch’s unhinged delivery mesh well with its cheerily optimistic instrumentation.

Sarah Martin, the band’s violin player, takes lead vocals on “Asleep On A Sunbeam,” which is all breezy charm and more of the album’s signature lighthearted, polished sound. Meanwhile, the most reminiscent of the band’s earlier lo-fi, more folk-based sound is found on “Lord Anthony,” which trades in the rest of the album’s insouciant energy for stripped-down production, downbeat instrumentation and wistful vocals to tell the tale of the perpetual outcast.

With its clever lyrics and shapeshifting but always stunning melodies, Dear Catastrophe Waitress is one of those rare pop albums that has both style and substance. Though longstanding fans may not appreciate this latest evolution in the band’s style, this album is most definitely worth checking out, and it’s hard not to be swayed by Belle & Sebastian’s wit and charm.

Rating: A-

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© 2008 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rough Trade, and is used for informational purposes only.