In which charmingly fey Scots indie legends shamelessly let Trevor Horn build them a pop masterpiece. Ok, so some of the highs on ‘The Life Pursuit’ get higher, and there are intricate passages on parts of ‘Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant’ that suggest that sometimes everything and the kitchen sink isn’t the way to go, but neither Noughties record is as much FUN as this one.
‘If She Wants Me’ makes me sway like a sunlit daffodil in an early June breeze and ‘Step Into My Office, Baby’ makes me clap loudly in that arms over the head, hands coming together in a variety of ugly noises kind of fashion that is lacking in any sense of self awareness. And that’s before we even get to ‘I’m A Cuckoo’, ‘Wrapped Up In Books’ and the Jilted John-esque ‘Stay Loose’ which concludes matters.
For some, Belle And Sebastian will never be forgiven for the, shall we say, larger sound of this album and its similarly styled follow up and I can, to a certain extent, understand why the almost scientifically indie sound of those early records mean that the more poppy, commercial sound of the last two records will never sit easily with those who clutched ‘Tigermilk’ and ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’ closely to their chests on numerous occasions. They are beautiful records – as indeed is pretty much everything they’ve ever released, ‘Storytelling’ aside – and I love them myself, but the pure pop sensibility that was foreground from ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ onwards was a spectacular smack around the face for me, causing me to spend more time with the entire B&S back catalogue. Perhaps that’s why it remains such a firm favourite, or perhaps it reminds me of a particularly happy time as a student, using my many free hours to absorb music fully without the real world interfering too often. Whatever the case, this is a modern pop classic and I urge you to put it on now, forget how incredibly cold it is outside and clap above your head for forty-five glorious minutes.
A visit to Rough Trade in April this year yielded numerous lovely records, but none moreso than this one. The good lady was starting to look a little bored as I began flicking through yet another rack of vinyl so, ever alert to the need to prolong the scant opportunities I get to live and breathe real record shops these days, I rashly stated that her mission was to find anything in the entire shop she liked the look of and I’d buy it. Little did I know how happily this challenge would be seized upon and I bought myself another twenty minutes browsing time. Eventually, I was beckoned over to the listening post whereupon I was instructed to give some serious consideration to a couple of tracks on an album I’d never heard of.
That album, was ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’ in its un-remastered, un-rearranged and un-rereleased form, housed in a hand-printed blue card sleeve and sounding tremendous. I pointed out that a couple of the tracks sounded like a constipated Tom Waits arguing with a seal, which while seriously tempting to me is not normally the way the good lady tends to lean when it comes to music, and was met with “Yes, but that first track is amazing.” And so, the album entered my life.
A few days later, we were pootling along a country road, en route to Cambridge, with the CD blaring out on the crappy car speakers and suddenly something clicked. This record was something very special. The delicate vocal of near title track, ‘Charlie Darwin’, is a true hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck moment and the lulling repetition of ‘To Ohio’ is one of my favourite track of this year. The harmonies on this album are perfect and it excels musically also, with an impressive adherence to the ‘less is more’ theory.
The Low Anthem’s 2007 album, ‘What The Crow Brings’, was also close to putting in an appearance in this list. It has less Waits-like flourishes and instead opts to stick mainly to the laid back acoustic, soulful Sunday night strum sound that was perfected on ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’. It’s also worth your attention and can be heard in the usual places or purchased from the band themselves.
The Low Anthem appeared in this summer’s FUTUREMUSIC feature and you can read that piece here.