Opening with Stuart Murdoch’s most personal, and arguably most beautiful, song to date, “Nobody’s Empire”, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, Belle and Sebastian’s ninth studio album, is immediately different from what came before. For the first time we see Murdoch open himself up, not hiding behind an angst-filled persona, and honestly explore his battle with ME, something that has unquestionably influenced his music for the past 20 years.
Likewise, for the first time Murdoch’s lyrics are explicitly political; indeed the album’s title would suggest so. As well as being a bit of a dance anthem, “The Party Line” is an obvious critique of the corrupt “jump to the beat of the party line” politics of today, whilst also, it seems, encouraging a radical rebelliousness as Murdoch opens with “I know I broke the rule already”. “The Cat With The Cream” slows things down, though Murdoch’s politics continue to flow, as he seems to criticise the ‘established’ political parties, with references to all three; the “men in frocks debat[ing] all the policy changes”.
On the surface, “Allie” is a return to their established character-focused indie pop, though it quite blatantly references world conflict (“there’s bombs in the Middle East”), knife culture (“there’s knives in the city streets”) and government cuts (“a prayer from the soon-to-be-closed library”). Ultimately, like the whole album, it is grounded within Belle conventions: it sounds quirky and upbeat, but “It’s much darker, much harder” in its undertones.
Almost twenty years on from their DIY debut, Tigermilk (an original copy of which will set you back over a thousand pounds), Belle and Sebastian are as strong as ever. As bands get older they usually diminish, but nine albums and a film down, and a headline gig at the Hydro in May, Glasgow’s greatest are still growing.