Belle and Sebastian: A Bit of Previous Album Review

The compassionate ballad “Do It for Your Country” transforms a patriotic catchphrase into a mantra urging a woman not to underestimate herself. “The world is just a game, something made of clay/But you are the great creator,” Murdoch sings. “So banish all your fears, grab it by the ears/Love and other things of beauty reign.” The band also acknowledges that this carpe diem attitude is easier preached than practiced: On the same track, Murdoch refers to himself as a “lobster in a pot/a songbird in a gilded nightmare.” Who is he to be offering advice about freedom?

If the lyrics share a tight thematic focus, the music is where Belle and Sebastian stretch their legs. Sonically, A Bit of Previous keys on a little bit of everything. The band’s last full-length, 2015’s Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, went heavy on the Big Pop vibes, occasionally at the expense of lyricism. Pared-down traces of that grooviness appear in the bright synth swirls of “Talk to Me, Talk to Me” and on Sarah Martin’s feminist electro anthem “Reclaim the Night.” Stevie Jackson takes the reins on the country ballad “Deathbed of My Dreams,” which is just the right amount of morose. On the soulful “If They’re Shooting at You,” Murdoch and co. are joined by a choir led by vocalist Anjolee Williams, further amplifying its message of endurance. None of these twists or turns feel abrupt—Belle and Sebastian, after all, once threw a synth-pop stunner into an album of quiet indie tunes. Even when they are experimenting, the best parts of their identity shine through.

Belle and Sebastian have never been short of wise words, but over the years, as their songs have grown less character-driven, they’ve gravitated toward clear, aphoristic language that cannot be misunderstood. Perhaps that is the result of graceful aging; perhaps it’s Murdoch’s interest in Christian and Buddhist thought. Either way, this approach feels exceptionally wholehearted on A Bit of Previous, especially in the final moments. On “Sea of ​​Sorrow,” Murdoch admits that words—the vehicle for so much happiness, so much anxiety—are just words, and it’s up to us how we process them. And then there’s “Working Boy in New York City.” This ditty about a young person searching for their true self is delightfully on-brand for the group, from its charming title and easygoing melody to the themes of spirituality, queerness, and loneliness. “Once you are happy and you know yourself/Peace can come in your heart/You can make a new start,” Murdoch sings. It sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.

All products featured on Pitchfork are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Belle and Sebastian: A Bit of Previous

Belle and Sebastian: A Bit of Previous

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *