1998, Music

The Boy With the Arab Strap (1998) by Belle and Sebastian

I have heard a lot about Belle & Sebastian over the years but I guess I never read anything that made me think that I needed to listen to them. Any time I read the word “twee” I certainly get the idea that I won’t like the music being described, whether or not that’s actually true.

Upon listening to this record I am floored by something and it feels like it’s so true of so many celebrated indie pop records of the 1990s – and really any records which revive previous sounds. I wonder if fans of the band – and critics who have praised the band so much – have ever listened to Donovan or Fairport Convention. Because…well, holy shit do Belle & Sebastian sound like some kind of ’90s hybrid of these two acts, albeit with a healthy dose of twee. Murdoch at times almost sounds like Donovan when he sings.

Now, it’s not that they entirely sound like these acts. Donovan was more diverse with more of a world music influence than Belle & Sebastian. And Fairport was folkier and rockier at different times. And obviously there were no synthesizers on those records (and little, if any, cello). The problem for me is that I like my music more diverse than this, I like my chamber pop folkier than this, and I like my indie pop rockier than this. I love Fairport Convention and sometimes love Donovan (depending upon the song) and when I listen to this I hear a band heavily influenced by both, but not as good as either act.

This feels unfair given the quality of the songs here: the melodies are quite strong and it’s easy to see why so many people love this group. But I can’t help but prefer the older music, which connects with me more and, well, was first.

I suspect this is a group I will never love as I can’t imagine listening to Fairport and wishing they were more twee, or listening to Donovan and wishing he’d cut out the world music.


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