With four years having passed since their last effort The Life Pursuit, many have been awaiting the return of Glasgow’s finest – Belle and Sebastian. In this time, side-projects have been indulged (Tired Pony, God Help The Girl), and a retrospective released (BBC sessions). With that in mind, one would hope to hear a trace of new influence and approach on the Scot’s eighth studio album. For the most part however, Write About Love keeps to the fey pop conventions that gained them their cult appeal.
This is, in many ways, no bad thing. Opening track ‘I Didn’t See It Coming’, demonstrates the slow-building crescendos B&S perfected albums ago; gradually introducing each voice and instrument until we’re left with a shimmering polyphony. Similarly, stripped back numbers such as ‘Calculating Bimbo’ and the trumpet-led ‘Ghost Of Rockshool’ showcase the often understated talents of singer Stuart Murdoch. No less impressive for their gentle execution, the quiet resent of the former and piety of the latter prove there’s more than one approach to the hoary old subject of ‘love’.
Where this record trips up however, is its knowingly saccharine interludes. Guitarist Stevie Jackson’s sole-credit (‘I’m Not Living In The Real World’) and title track ‘Write About Love’ being the main offenders on an album peppered with twee trappings. Furthermore, the overwhelming feeling that eight albums in, Belle & Sebastian lack the ambition to compose outside their comfort zone, leaves the likes of ‘Come On Sister’ and ‘I Can See Your Future sounding familiar but forgettable.
For some of its obvious flaws, there is one track here that sees the seven-piece truly excel. Featuring the vocal talents of Norah Jones, ‘Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John’, is a torch ballad of sublime standard. Providing a dash of American panache, Jones’ contribution suggests further outside assistance will be the way forward for this staid albeit accomplished group. Until then, Write About Love remains an enjoyable, if unremarkable, listen.