Finer Feelings #1: Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003)

I’m not about to tell you that this is the greatest album of the decade.  I’m sure that some other, more popular record made a cultural impact that far eclipsed the splash made by indie faves Belle & Sebastian.  What Dear Catastrophe Waitress is, though, is my favorite album of the past 10 years.  I hadn’t even heard of Belle & Sebastian until 2006’s The Life Pursuit.  By approaching their catalogue backwards, I was quickly rewarded when listening to their stunning fifth LP.  From the opening honks of “Step Into My Office, Baby” to the twangy fadeout of “Stay Loose,” the whole record is nothing short of a masterpiece.  I’ll leave it up to you to investigate a more detailed account of Belle & Sebastian’s history leading up to Dear Catastrophe Waitress, but I’ll quickly run it for you here:  After a pair of rather popular albums, the group fell into a bit of a slump (though I contend that The Boy With The Arab Strap is still really good).  Searching for some direction, the band came to sonic whiz Trevor Horn, the mastermind behind the Buggles, Art Of Noise and ZTT Records.  Horn rather quickly assigned Stuart Murdoch the role of lead singer, a position that the band had been reluctant to so rigidly define on previous albums.  With Horn at the helm, Belle & Sebastian created a disc’s worth of songs that showed off talent and depth that had only been hinted at on previous releases.

At the time, apparently, fans criticized the album’s polished pop sheen.  Given Horn’s love for sampling, it’s curious that the end result wasn’t more alienating.  At any rate, heart-breaking personal tunes like “Piazza, New York Catcher” and “Lord Anthony” furthered Murdoch’s fey, sexual convention-confronting persona.  Non-Stuart compositions are also stellar, with guitarist Stevie Jackson’s “Roy Walker” and violinist Sarah Martin’s “Asleep On A Sunbeam” hearken back to the band’s more democratic albums.  In the end, though, it’s the smart, tightly arranged tunes that steal the show.  “I’m A Cuckoo” both imitates and evokes Thin Lizzy’s twin guitars, “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love” is either an encouragement or a warning, and “You Don’t Send Me” is the coolest (like, in the jazz sense) break-up song ever.  And just because I haven’t specifically mentioned “If She Wants Me,” “Wrapped Up In Books” and the title track hardly means that they’re mere filler.  With this record, Belle & Sebastian not only breathed life back into their own career, they also happened to make my favorite album of the ‘00s.

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~ by E. on December 4, 2009.

One Response to “Finer Feelings #1: Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress (2003)”

  1. I loved them in “Beauty and The Beast” and “The Little Mermaid”, respectively.

    Didn’t U2 and Radiohead and all those other shitty bands put out albums this decade? Congratulations on not bending to “the Man”.

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