Who? Belle and Sebastian
Title: Belle and Sebastian Write About Love
Label: Rough Trade
Tell me more: A glorious sepia-tinted cover means only one thing: a new Belle and Sebastian album. And this one is celebrity-endorsed with guest appearances by Norah Jones (boo) and An Education actress Carey Mulligan (yay) on one track apiece.
The Lowdown: The Glasgow icons reached a zenith during the past decade with two stellar albums, Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003) and The Life Pursuit, from well over four years ago.
And to this bulging library of goodness we can add Write About Love, more beauty in a digipak, complete with idyllic photos of a couple reading Keats in a field.
The basic tenets of a B & S album are all enclosed: dreamy vocals from Stuart Murdoch and Sarah Martin, plaintive melodies, and beautifully penned songs about relationships that never happened, schoolyard bullying, and, on Calculating Bimbo, a tale of the toxic friend who only calls at midnight when a relationship with a muscleman goes awry. “I’m your captain for the long haul” sings a willing Murdoch as the call for help comes in. There are some lovely tracks with 60s bounce; it’s impossible not to be entranced by the hook-heavy I Can See Your Future or the escapist harmonies of the title track featuring Mulligan.
But the decision to rope in Jones was a big mistake: she has no idea of what B & S are about nor does Murdoch really how to utilise her fully. Some people have cruelly labelled this an MOR album: it isn’t that and yet there are cringeworthy moments and languid balladry, a la Read the Blessed Pages, that gives those calls some authority.
Anything else? In 1999 the band were awarded the Best Newcomer gong at the Brit Awards, upsetting the corporate industry’s hopefuls Steps and 5ive.
Who? Lupen Crook
Title: The Pros and Cons of Eating Out
Label: Beast Reality records
Tell me more: Crook’s persona shifts between ” lone folkie, loco punker, schizoid artist, gutter poet, sex-obsessed lover, drunken romantic, twisted rocker, doting father and provocative prankster”.
The Lowdown: The above description came from the accompanying press release, something Porky tends to avoid as it’s usually full of glowing, over-the-top hype but in this instance I can only but praise the effort the label has gone to in trying to win over the world’s best pig-based music blog. The CD comes within a booklet that contains photographs of Crook and his band, a statement “on the album title, artwork and themes” by Crook, excerpts of lyrics and various confused and bemused articles. In the cold and fake age of downloads and iTunes, such effort needs a raft of one-hand clapping at the least.
It would be, given this volley of flattery, naive to expect something tantamount to a masterpiece in an era of wanton musical turgidness, and I’m of an age that I can gird my loins on ripping open a parcel from a PR company acting on behalf of a record label. The salt is easily spread over, a pinch or a teaspoonful at a time. The Pros and Cons … is a challenging album, consuming the sounds of the Balkans, musical theatre and the New Wave of New Wave, not always deliberately. It ends up as a stir fry using leftovers and flavours that clash, providing a 41-minute dish that both sparkles the tastebuds and leaves you feeling bloated. I can think of the Libertines, and moreover the flood of imitators that followed, in using intelligence with pace; glamour with individuality. It worked with Barat et Doherty but the imitators missed the point. Crook HAS the point, he is just confused what to do with it.
Who? The Woe Betides
Title: Never Sleep
Label: Songs in the Dark
Tell me more: Woe Betide: Simon Mastrantone, Grundy le Zimbra and Colonel Sexlife; only Mr Sexlife was born with his stage name.
The Lowdown: There are as many indie-rock bands in the YooKay as there are slugs in your garden. They play places like Bury St Edmunds, have created a hundred web pages to plug themselves, and have a following of 18-year-old humanities students.
Never Sleep starts promisingly, with the bass-reliant On The Wheel, and the excruciatingly over-done Bone on Bone, but then I hear some wonderful use of the piano on the heart-stopping One of Your Pills while This Head, Your Heart is just about the finest three-minute rousing anthem you can get outwith the Manic Street Preachers circa 1999. A single, Sylvia, is infuriatingly cuddly, the kind of thing you want to fast-forward but can’t because it has already dig a hole into your soul. Their use of instrumentation is admirable but the songs don’t always match the ambition.