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Belle and Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Label: Sanctuary / Castle
Release: 2003

Step Into My Office, Baby
Dear Catastrophe Waitress
If She Wants Me
Piazza, New York Catcher
Asleep on a Sunbeam
I'm a Cuckoo
You Don't Send Me
Wrapped Up in Books
Lord Anthony
If You Find Yourself Caught in Love
Roy Walker
Stay Loose
Dear Catastrophe Waitress - Belle and Sebastian
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A long time ago, there was a band called Belle and Sebastian. They played tiny gigs, didn't talk to the press and recorded low-fi wistful albums with only one cool, literate singer. Then something happened. New elements of style began to creep into the band's canon; they started winning awards and entering the public eye; other lead singer/songwriters emerged and many of the old fans began to cluck their tounges and wonder what was happening to the band they loved.
If you're one of those fans that hasn't really cared for the band's post-1998 material, then this album might not delight you much - if anything it's the deathnail in the coffin of the Belle and Sebastain of old. That said, I'd be all set to trash it to peices if it weren't for one little detail: it's as smartly written, as tightly produced an a lot more fun than anything they've had out up to this point. In other words, it's actually quite excellent.

Oh so where do I start? Well, for one thing Stu Murdoch is doing the bulk of vocal duty here once again (Stevie and Sarah sing lead on one track each and harmonize often) and his wry outlook hasn't changed much: Step Into My Office Baby (also the first single to be lifted directly from a B&S record) is an innuendo laden romp about shagging the boss, the oddly titled Piazza New York Catcher contains some of his best lyrics this side of Tigermilk ("Elope with me miss private and we'll drink ourselves awake / We'll taste the coffee houses and awards certificates / A privy seal to keep the feel of 1960s style / We'll comment on the decor and we'll help the passerby / And at dusk when work is over we'll continue the debate / in a borrowed bedroom, Virginal and spare"). Two of the tracks (Lord Anthony and the title effort) are in fact songs written back in the mid '90s that are only now getting proper studio treatment.

But of course the standout feature here isn't the group's lyrics - if anything, that's the most consistent factor in their work. No, what's most interesting here are the sounds of the songs themselves, no longer limited to the chamber pop of old. There are, of course, elements of the signature B&S sound. Wrapped Up in Books recalls a track like I Could Be Dreaming, the delicious piano intro to If You Find Yourself Caught in Love could've been on Sinister (even after the song picks up tempo, it's not that much of a reach), and the aforementioned Piazza New York Catcher is actually a 4 track demo that's just Stu and an acoustic guitar.

However, we've also got a tribute to Thin Lizzy (I'm a Cuckoo), a VERY '60s flavoured (at least to me) bubblegum ballad (If She Wants Me) and, most interestingly, the nearly seven minute Stay Loose, which defies easy explanation, but recalls the best of new wave/bossonova of the early '80s.

Actually, that connection is rather ironic, since the buzz is Stay Loose is one track producer Trevor Horn didn't have a lot of input on. Horn has, of course, worked as a member of The Buggles and The Art of Noise, as well as working with bands like Yes, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and more recently TATU. He may seem like an odd choice to produce a Belle and Sebastian album, but when you hear the record, it fits like a glove.

Ok, ok. It's not a purist's B&S record, and it's not a return to form of any sort except perhaps in sheer quality. But after hearing it, I'm rather glad about that. I wouldn't want the group to be one of those that either produces the same album over and over until they become stagnant (Tigermilk and Sinister were great, but how many of them could you stand, really?) or tries to explore new directions but ends up out of their element (a direction it seemed they may be heading after Fold Your Hands Child... and Storytelling). With this record, I'm happy to report that they are, in fact, finding their footing very nicely in a range of new styles and ideas, and it actually makes me look forward even more to future Belle and Sebastian albums to see what they keep, what they throw out and what other interesting changes of pace they've got up their sleeves.

Four and a half stars, easy. Go pick it up. It's a pick-me-up for sure. Favourite tracks at the moment: If She Wants Me, I'm a Cuckoo, Lord Anthony, Stay Loose.

Reviewer Rating of CD :

Having only heard their first two records before hearing this one I'm probably not of liberty to review this properly, but I'll do my best noentheless.

Compared to "Tigermilk" and "If You're Feeling Sinsiter", it sounds a tad more upbeat, and for me makes a more pleasent listening experience. It starts strong, goes strong, and ends strong, and I can't imagine any long time Belle and Sebastian fans being disappointed in this record. The music is solid, the lyrics are solid, the vocals are solid, everything is just SOLID, and what more could you ask for? It stands out as one of the best records of the year in one of the better musical years we've had in a long time, it's worth picking up to anyone who appreciates a fine indie pop record.

Reviewer Rating of CD :


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