Belle and Sebastian - Late Developers Music Album Reviews

Belle and Sebastian - Late Developers Music Album Reviews
On the quick follow-up to last year’s A Bit of Previous, the Glasgow indie-pop band’s on-the-fly energy and head-in-the-clouds musings collide in memorable and surprising ways.

Belle and Sebastian may always be remembered for their unlikely ascent in the 1990s: the makeshift band of Glasgow musicians who became international word-of-mouth sensations and helped define the sound of the era’s sensitive indie pop. But what they accomplished in the decade-plus after their dual 1996 breakthroughs, Tigermilk and its quick follow-up If You’re Feeling Sinister, was pretty unusual too. They transformed into a festival-ready ensemble who reached new and gaudier heights, all without the pressures (or perks) of mainstream fame. Last year’s A Bit of Previous, their first proper studio album in seven years, was another improbable triumph, reinvigorating familiar themes of spirituality, sexuality, and existential crisis with an easygoing humility born of experience: Belle and Sebastian were so much older then, they’re younger than that now.

Well, surprise—again. Late Developers, announced less than a week before its release, underlines Belle and Sebastian’s uncanny ability to keep coming out on top. Before the COVID-19 lockdown in spring 2020, the band was planning to record in Los Angeles with Shawn Everett, the six-time Grammy-winning producer and engineer who has worked with the War on Drugs and Kacey Musgraves. Instead, they shelved their intended L.A. songs, rearranging their Glasgow rehearsal space to write and track what became A Bit of Previous and, now, Late Developers. Like the last record, Late Developers carries the anything-goes effortlessness of sessions where, as Stuart Murdoch told an interviewer last year, “You might wake up with a tune in your head and think about the words on the way in, and it wasn’t until you got to the studio that you would nail it down with chords.” Perhaps it’s not heresy to also say: Like If You’re Feeling Sinister, this is a near-simultaneous follow-up that’s somehow even better than its acclaimed predecessor.

The characters from their first two records—who stood out for, say, being into S&M and Bible studies or making life-sized models of the Velvet Underground—inhabited a shared universe. Likewise, Late Developers extends the full-circle gesture of A Bit of Previous. Musically, the new album runs the gamut from sepia-toned folk-rock that might’ve fit on 1998’s The Boy With the Arab Strap to neon synth pop that’s as insidiously earworm-y as this band has ever sounded. As with A Bit of Previous, the emphasis is on the nuances of a large group playing together. Their nonchalant camaraderie is the password to a secret club where anyone can belong. Lyrically too, the bookish outcasts who once ruled the school are now shredding their old letters and questioning their former selfish obsessions. There are, blessedly, no specific references to present-day technology or breaking-news headlines, but clearly they’re living in the now.

Late Developers’ contemporary vision is illuminated, though, by the “then.” Where A Bit of Previous single “Young and Stupid” bounced around the trapdoor of nostalgia with all the deceptive sunniness of mid-2000s Belle and Sebastian, here the A.A. Milne-referencing “When We Were Very Young” is a moodier, piano-driven number that might hit early fans a bit close to home. Murdoch’s narrator, a despondent commuter who can’t muster two shits about his prior creative passions, yearns eloquently for contentment in routine—in “football scores” and “my daily worship of the sublime”—but sorry, too bad: “We’ve got kids and dystopia,” sings the frontman, who recently turned 54. A different kind of time warp occurs on “When the Cynics Stare Back From the Wall,” a previously unreleased song written circa 1994. Ambling chamber pop with guest vocals by Tracyanne Campbell, of much-missed Glasgow band Camera Obscura, it has the feel of a lost classic: a B-side or soundtrack selection that you somehow slept on for 25 years. But its stubborn insistence on sincerity, rendered by middle-aged adults who know all too well about pandemics and political collapse, feels earned where it might once have seemed naive.

As on A Bit of Previous, Belle and Sebastian share songwriting credit throughout Late Developers, and Murdoch isn’t the only longstanding member who captures the album’s spirit of communal urgency and disquieted déjà vu. Violinist and co-lead singer Sarah Martin, who’s been in the group since before If You’re Feeling Sinister, seizes the vintage-B&S sunshine of “Give a Little Time” to make her paradoxically persuasive case for leaving the past in the past. As bass rumbles over the sprightly synth-disco of “Do You Follow,” a call-and-response affair that recalls 2004’s non-album espionage-funk gem “Your Cover’s Blown,” Martin gets in the sharpest jabs: Murdoch, asking what must be a universal question, sings, “Is it me or just the world that’s changing?” Martin, sounding unimpressed, shoots back, “My money’s on you.”

At a lean 11 songs and 43 minutes, Late Developers is packed with moments when the band’s on-the-fly energy and head-in-the-clouds musings collide in memorable ways. Opener “Juliet Naked” bristles with stark electric guitar, all the better to ponder Murdoch’s richly allusive visions of “quicksand on the battlefield,” “prayers and pills,” and the “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” songwriting duo. On the revved-up indie dance of “When You’re Not With Me,” Martin offers to “stop the clock/and make a moment between tick and tock”—a particularly evocative way to revisit yet another longtime pet concern. The closing title track, with horns and gospel-powered backing vocals, is so jaunty and verdant that more than a few in Belle and Sebastian’s demographic may be reminded of the Encanto end credits. But it’s also a cathartic unburdening. Building on the last album’s vulnerable “Do It for Your Country,” where Murdoch compared himself to a “lobster in a pot/a songbird in a gilded nightmare,” he sings here, “Who said that I had the wisdom, had the answer?/Wasn’t me.”

Proving Murdoch’s endearing openness to fallibility is Late Developers’ first single, “I Don’t Know What You See in Me,” crafted uncharacteristically with an outside co-writer, Peter Ferguson aka Wuh Oh. Eerily digestible synth pop with essences of palm-muted guitar and a maniacally catchy refrain, it feels like a late-career attempt to indoctrinate new members of the cult. What risked being a garish embarrassment should end up as a fresh hit for the band’s encore runs. Belle and Sebastian have always been focused on connection, and on Late Developers, they’re unpretentious about sharing that bond and generous in reinforcing it.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Belle and Sebastian - Late Developers Music Album Reviews Belle and Sebastian - Late Developers Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on January 20, 2023 Rating: 5


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