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Dirty Dream Numbers 3-13,
This review is from: FOLD YOUR HANDS CHILD YOU WALK LIKE A PEASANT (Audio CD)
Pet Sounds clones are a dime a dozen. Every month someone, somewhere, claims unearned kudos for the latest indie fad by comparing it with the Beach Boys' 1966 masterwork. In the case of Fold Your Hands Child, however, there really is no other precedent. On the evidence of their 3 earlier efforts, Belle & Sebastian seem incapable of writing a bad tune, but here they've transcended even those illustrious early works: 11 perfectly cut pop gems, as graceful and exacting as Brian Wilson used to produce.
Comparisons will inevitably be made with the album's predecessor, The Boy With the Arab Strap. One of those songs in particular points to the new direction, `Dirty Dream Number 2', the exquisite soul pastiche. Sarah Martin's violin works similar wonders here on `The Model', `Don't Leave the Light On Baby', `Women's Realm' and `There's Too Much Love', the sweetest string sounds imaginable, soaring and diving, wringing every nuance of heartbreak from the accompanying lyric. The same soulful vivacity infuses the rest of the album - call it, then, `Dirty Dream Numbers 3 to 13'.
`I Fought In a War' begins like an ancient folk hymn, then carries its elegiac tone into a contemporary pop setting. The harpsichord, another new feature, seems custom-built for the B&S musical blueprint. It adds extra fervour to `Waiting for the Moon to Rise' and propels `The Model', the latter a classic Stuart Murdoch tale of emotional confusion, using painting as a metaphor for a dysfunctional relationship. In stark contrast is the concentrated, hesitant `Beyond the Sunrise', which demonstrates how impeccably arranged the sound has become. Harking back to the Lee Hazlewood-Nancy Sinatra duets of the sixties, it features male and female vocal parts, choir-like backing, startlingly audible fretwork (you can hear the fingers working), church bells, and backwards guitar - all of it used sparingly, for embellishment. Understatement is the keyword in the Belle & Sebastian glossary. It's a relief to know that someone has finally got around to following up the Smiths' `Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now'. The song, `Nice Day for a Sulk', hitches a jaunty, lilting rhythm to an ethereal and uplifting vocal melody. Even the soul turn itself takes a new turn, on `Don't Leave the Light On Baby'. The singer slips between cautious regret and bitter resignation, over a haunting and soulful keyboards-and-strings refrain (if you're feeling sinister). More pointed is `The Chalet Lines', a first-person retelling of a girl's rape, sung by Murdoch. Yet this apparently straightforward and spartan lament contains its own subtleties. Even as the sharp colloquialisms make the incident seem more harrowing, the sense of helplessness and despair cannot extinguish a spark of defiance.
The next single, `The Wrong Girl', telegraphs the essence of the B&S sound: a melody that you've heard a hundred times before, sounding like you're hearing it for the first time, every time. And then before it's barely begun, you're ensnared in that strange, magical, unfathomable mood they seem to conjure up at will. Such pristine pop purity is rarely achieved on a single, let alone a whole album.
Can a better one possibly come out this year?