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The Life Pursuit
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MP3 Music, February 7, 2006
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Written almost entirely by frontman Stuart Murdoch, Belle and Sebastian's sixth album is a magnificently assured and diverse pop record. with nods to such influences as Cornelius, Manfred Mann, and David Bowie, the Life Pursuit mingles the folky, be-sweatered pathos of the group's earliest work with joyfully satirical late 60's sunshine pop, and the sophisticated 80's-influenced work reminiscent of their prior album, 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Matador. 2006.
Oh to be free and frivolous, like Stuart Murdoch and his extensive cast of players as they engage The Life Pursuit. There's no "Take Your Carriage Clock and Shove It" or "Get Me Away from Here, Im Dying" on this disc. Life has gotten easier, it seems, since Belle and Sebastian's early days. To boot, since 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress, the Belle cast has indulged a more 70s-era set of influences: Isn't that Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky" beat on the funny "White Collar Boy," a near sequel to "Step Into My Office, Baby"? And how about the T-Rex touch on the opening of "The Blues Are Still Blue"? No worries, Belle and Sebastian retain their gleam flawlessly. A jaunty lift is still in their step, a carefree abandon that charms even as it also reaches to the 70s for the funk-meets-psychedelia, "Song for Sunshine." It's bright and breezy throughout (the titles tell some of the story: "Another Sunny Day" and "Funny Little Frog"), with memorably decorous, familiar bouncing rhythms marking much of the album. The downtone "Dress Up in You" and "Mornington Crescent" are spare and lovely, wide-open in their pacing. All the same, "For the Price of a Cup of Tea," almost triggers a sing-along with just its name. --Andrew Bartlett
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Top customer reviews
The songs themselves are more overtly seventies rock-and-pop (and funk), with "The Blues are Still Blue" probably being the high point. Of course, several cuts are very reminiscent of old Belle & Sebsatian ("Dress Up in You," "Funny Little Frog," "Another Sunny Day" -- though "Frog" is steeped in rocking piano accents and hip, poppy guitar lines). You will be disappointed if you're only looking for something akin to "Sinister" or "Fold Your Hands," however.
The DVD in this limited edition package is a bit of a surprise, considering the current price on amazon is only a little more over the standard, comparatively average CD set. Six songs from the album are performed live, rather well, with Stuart Murdoch (the imitable and quite lovely band leader) showing some serious charm. I think I might be even more in love with him than I was before. (The songs are "Another Sunny Day," "Dress Up in You," "To Be Myself Completely," "Mornington Crescent," "Funny Little Frog," and "White Collar Boy.")
The packaging is exactly like the deluxe version of "Push Barman": hardcover mini-book, except way more pictures and linear notes. A lot of the Q&A from the band's official website is in here, which at first I found unimpressive, but I'm fine with it now. Richard's answers to most everything are hilarious, and the very notion of putting such a thing in the linear notes shows how well connected B&S is to its fans.
Surely worth the purchase for anyone who loves the band. It doesn't particularly matter if you're a casual fan or not -- the deluxe version honestly isn't much more than the regular one, and the music is catchy and friendly enough to guarantee new fans. Highly recommended.
But great music is about emotion and engagement as well as technique (one without the other is just not enough) and on this level I just have to say I LOVE the album. The radiance of "Another sunny day" is captivating and the long, flowing, seamless melody is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. I think the main melody from "We are the sleepyheads" (love the title) is maybe the most complex melody ever from B&S -- just great work. And maybe my favorite song of all is "Dress up in you" -- soft, sweet, heartrending (but not in a sad way). I haven't even mentioned some really strong efforts like "White Collar Boy" and "The Blues are still blue." And "To be myself completely" really hits me in the heart (although I really wish they'd have chosen a different singer). Also worth mentioning are the very clever lyrics.
I do have some criticisms. As usual, the singing is amateurish. My wife and I -- both big fans -- have repeatedly expressed the desire that B&S write the songs -- something they are very, very good at -- and turn them over to crack musicians for the recording. At least, upgrade the vocal performances, which are below the mediocre level! And not all the songs are up to the best stuff ("Mornington Crescent" is boring, "Song for Sunshine" is a 70s remake which is OK but I think they should have upped the tempo by about 50%).
That said, this is a terrific album and my favorite B&S ever. It's nice to know that a band one loves is doing better work than they were a decade ago. Highly recommended.
All that talk seems to be rubbish to me.
The band has always had their own sound, and they still do. The writing on this album is brilliant - both musically and lyrically. There are so many great songs - "Act of the Apostle," "Another Sunny Day," "White Collar Boy," "Funny Little Frog," "Mornington Crescent" - I could go on. The musicianship and production values are better than ever.
It's true, B&S have left their lo-fi sound behind. Have Stuart Murdoch & Co. forsaken their roots, or does each album bring them closer to realizing their original vision? Or does that vision continue to grow and take shape with each new album? Only they know for sure, but it doesn't really matter. It's all great stuff. Press "play" and enjoy it.