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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 7, 2006

My view: 'The Life Pursuit' by Belle and Sebastian

By Joshua Masayoshi Huff
Special to The Advertiser

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THE VERDICT: THREE

THE RATINGS

5 Outstanding: Add it to your collection now. A must-have.

4 Great: Buy it or rent it definitely listen to it.

3 Good: Worth listening to despite some flaws.

2 Fair: Unless you're a fan of the group or singer, don't bother.

1 Poor: Save your money (and your ears).

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CD: "The Life Pursuit" by Belle and Sebastian; Matador Records

Release: Feb. 7

Style: Folk/pop

My take: If you're a fan of stripped-down, folk-pop bands such as the Shins or Iron and Wine, you have Belle and Sebastian to thank for showing record labels that these sort of acts can sell albums. The Glasgow, Scotland, band's seventh proper studio album, "The Life Pursuit," follows in the vein of its predecessor, "Dear Catastrophe Waitress," which was a departure from its acoustic sound and a step toward bombastic pop music.

Belle and Sebastian started out as as a college business project for Stuart Murdoch, who put out the album "Tigermilk" for a class and was supposed to sell a certain number of records. It became incredibly popular in Scotland and eventually all of Britain, especially among college students who loved the sarcasm, wit and tongue-in-cheek lyrical style of Murdoch and the musical stylings of the band, whose sound isn't far removed from that of the '80s band The Smiths.

Belle and Sebastian's first three albums, "Tigermilk," "If You're Feeling Sinister" and "The Boy With the Arab Strap," are as close to being considered classics as any album of the past 15 years can be. These albums, based mainly on acoustic guitar and adorned with pianos (both electric and acoustic), orchestras and soft electric guitars and drums, gained the band its collegiate following. Many fans, including myself, are having a hard time digesting the louder, brash Belle and Sebastian.

"The Life Pursuit" kicks off with "Act of the Apostle Part 1" ("Act of the Apostle Part 2" comes a bit later). This subdued song wouldn't be out of place on the band's early, more lauded works except that it simply is not as good.

The next three songs, "Another Sunny Day," "White Collar Boy" and "The Blues are Still Blue" are upbeat numbers that sound like pieces from "Dear Catastrophe Waitress." They are pleasant enough but feel as if they just weren't good enough for "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" and were instead kept around for release on "Pursuit."

"Dress Up In You" is the first song that really harkens back to Belle and Sebastian's former days. It has a soft, plaintive feel and is a gem. The next two, "Sukie in the Graveyard" and "We Are the Sleepyheads" are sunnier, more upbeat numbers and are the best two pop songs on the record. In "Sukie," Murdoch sings about a girl who hangs out with art-school students to be cool while never attending classes and knowing nothing about art. It is this sort of cattiness that brought Belle and Sebastian their fans, and it's good to see that the band hasn't lost its sense of humor. "Sleepyheads" has lyrics about being ignored, but the music itself is very happy. Again, it is this sort of irony and humor that put the band on the map, and they should not forget that.

"The Life Pursuit" is still a good piece of work and worth listening to, but the band's previous albums are definitely better musically and lyrically. Why fix something if it isn't broken?

Joshua Masayoshi Huff, a graduate of Moanalua High School, attends George Washington University in Washington, D.C.