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Belle and Sebastian (Matador Records, 2010)


I have a really bad attitude about the clever, collegiate, and self-consciously catchy indie-pop bands that overpopulate the music programming of National Public Radio. Every time I hear the stuff I get an urge to crank up some ZZ Top.

Belle and Sebastian are definitely one of those bands. But I had to give them a chance when I heard their frontman, Stuart Murdoch, talking frankly (on NPR, of course) about his Christian faith, and the difficulty of writing songs about it without crossing the line into "mawkish Christian rock." Turns out the guy sings in the choir and leads the youth group for his local parish of the Church of Scotland. There went all my cliches about indie-pop narcissism. So I gave Murdoch and his band a listen.

They are catchy. In fact, if you never got enough of The Hollies, this albums title track is a brilliant distillation of all the tricks in that '60s Top 40 rock toolkit. It also has a lyric that details an office worker's bored alienation and retreat into fantasy (cue up "Monday I've got Friday on my mind ..."). But in the last verse the narrator bluntly advises the office worker to "get on your skinny knees and pray." I've been waiting decades to hear someone say that to an angst-ridden young bohemian.

"Ghost of Rockschool" is the track that provoked Murdoch's comments about Christian rock, and the chorus explains why: "I've seen God in the sun/I've seen God in the street/God before bed and the promise of sleep/God in my dreams and the free ride of grace/But it all disappears/And then I wake up." It's an open declaration of God's reality and the singer's dependence upon it. But it's equally frank about the fleeting and elusive nature of what Allen Ginsberg called "the ancient heavenly connection." Whatever one's prejudices about indie-pop, Belle and Sebastian have turned in a finely crafted piece of ear candy that actually has some nutritional substance.--Danny Duncan Collum

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Author:Collum, Danny Duncan
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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