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Review: Belle and Sebastian - A Bit of Previous

Belle and Sebastian serve a delightful cocktail of old and new on A Bit of Previous.

By Jacob Collett, Third Year Psychology

Belle and Sebastian serve a delightful cocktail of old and new on A Bit of Previous.

Recorded over lockdown in a covid-safe studio in their hometown of Glasgow, Belle and Sebastian’s tenth studio album A Bit of Previous is as diverse as it is energetic, and a reminder that despite their age, the band shows no signs of slowing down.

Belle and Sebastian’s music has been something of a stalwart friend throughout my time at university, carrying me through the inevitable highs and lows with wry and at times scornful lyrics over upbeat, catchy tunes which appeal to the growing pains of early adulthood. So it seems fitting that nearing the end of my degree and reflecting on the past three years, my final article before I graduate is a review of an album steeped in nostalgia.

A Bit of Previous comes flying out the gates with the jubilant opener Young and Stupid, a cheery, life-affirming track which captures the youthful optimism that their earlier records were somewhat lacking. This fades into the punchy and feel-good If They’re Shooting at You, with its jaunty horns and gospel backing vocals like a burst of sunlight through the window of a dark library.

The relentless energy continues throughout the first half of the album with synthy pop-bangers Talk to Me, Talk to Me and Reclaim the Night, high in enjoyability and danceability. This get-up-and-go vibe perhaps reflects the fact that some of the tracks were written and recorded within the same day, in a cramped, self-contained studio at the height of lockdown - it’s no wonder Belle and Sebastian were dreaming of getting back on stage!

However, the boundless energy eventually dies down in the second half with slower and more sultry moments such as Do It for Your Country or Sea of Sorrows which almost sound like they could be B-sides on The Boy With the Arab Strap (hence the title). But unlike the band’s 1996 album double-debut of Tigermilk and If You’re Feeling Sinister, these nostalgic tracks have a more subdued, less angsty vibe.

Juxtaposed with the throwbacks are also complete stylistic U-turns such as Deathbed of my Dreams, which teeters on the edge of country-ballad, or the borderline unhinged Unnecessary Drama, where screeching horns blare over the refrain “And this is my life, this is my so-called life”.

Lead singer Stuart Murdoch has been open about his struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome and how this has shaped the band’s sound over the years. The defiant and optimistic tone of this album however suggests that, while he may have to accept living with certain constraints, the days of letting his illness dictate his life and career are over.

And this is certainly going to have to be the case as Belle and Sebastian embark on a large-scale US tour before coming back to play a host of shows in the UK and Europe this summer.

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A Bit of Previous is an emphatic statement – the band are older, perhaps wiser, seemingly happier than ever and ready to get back out in front of crowds after a long wait.

Featured image: Matador Records

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