"KIDS & DYSTOPIA" – MY REVIEW OF LATE DEVELOPERS BY BELLE & SEBASTIAN
For a band that are approaching 30 years of age, Glasgow outfit Belle & Sebastian show no signs of fading away, and their new album, released last month suggests they are still at the peak of their powers. Their latest release, the polysemic ‘Late Developers’ released just last month, and has drawn praise from fans and critics alike.
The short build-up to the release was noteworthy in itself, subverting black-suit marketing conventions we have sadly become accustomed to in the music industry. Not with Belle & Sebastian.
No waiting. No distraction. No nonsense.
Matador and the band’s promotion strategy for ‘Late Developers’ served as a loving arm around music traditionalists. Announcing the album on the very same week of its release, seemed to me to say, ‘here is the music, it has everything you need to know.’ That proved to be very true.
It’s a brave, bold and even pioneering move to release an album in such a way. So, bravo to all involved for that one. A very nice touch.
Before we delve into the many lyrical and technical qualities of the album, a word must be given to the visual quality of the record itself, with a stunning cover sleeve and accompanying imagery in the LP. You are immersed into the world of the long-player, even before it is spun around and consummated by the needle.
The photography, I believe mostly by lead vocalist Stuart Murdoch himself, is gritty and exactly on-brand with the legacy and imagery of Belle & Sebastian. The physical record serves the album incredibly well.
And then, comes the music…
The crackle of anticipation that comes with any vinyl record is brushed aside in ‘Late Developers’ by the jump-awake rush and push of ‘Juliet Naked’, which elegantly serves an image of daybreak, dawn and light; packing a punch of a hazy nostalgia, despite the song being just weeks old.
“Prayers and pills / Dusty nights in quivering hotels”. We are not only introduced to Juliet as a character, but thrust into her mind through Murdoch’s flowing fountain of wit and the band’s craftmanship to play and create music that can free and liberate a tired heart. A Belle & Sebastian song like this one is a welcoming, fulfilling experience, not a passive act.
This track and field bendy musical composition presses on and is heightened as we are welcomed into the second track, with the work of Murdoch, Martin & co bringing with it an ethereal je ne sais quoi.
The first real pearl of the album comes along in track 3, however. ‘When we were very young’, paints an artistic landscape of more imagery and heart than I can quite comprehend. The opening lyrics are here before you have any real chance to settle into the song – this is a move of genius. It is unavoidable, meaningful and not to be ignored. “I can see mountains / I can see sky / I sometimes wish that I was blind / To all the futures that we left behind”, could be an album in itself. Here, Murdoch’s storytelling brilliance and short lines enable galactic bursts of emotion. He is at his absolute best.
The song goes on, depicting a present day of living in the future, in a summersault world with “kids and dystopia”. Spectacular. Even the rhyming couplets bring with them a sentimental fragrance of a gritty, yet aesthetic reality. We seem to get deeper into the mind of the speaker. “From the ‘no one gets me’ / from my sense of envy”
On the cusp of four minutes the track fades to a close, with Murdoch pleading for his “scars and sores” to depart, one can’t help but will the track on to continue for just a few moments longer.
The following tracks maintain the high standard set by the openers, with the intimate reflections of ‘Will I tell you a secret’. Every time I listen, I can feel that song growing on me further – and I adored it to begin with. The song is humorously mournful, backed by incredibly melodies. You can feel the heart of the band especially in this track. “It’s a funny old time to be a lover”.
Side note – (Whether or not the imagery of the albatross in this track is nod towards Coleridge, or something vastly different, I appreciate it nonetheless.)
‘So in the Moment’ & ‘The Evening Star’ break the whispering spell created by the previous track, and serve as a reminder to the more lively opening songs. Again, both are lyrically thought-provoking with upbeat melodies and melancholy undertones, which are presented and crafted expertly well. The ending line “don’t you let me down again”, in ‘So in the Moment’ is spinechilling, in the best way. It’s direct, blunt and cuts and delivered so well it’s worth listening to the song for that moment on its own. You don’t get these moments, such images in time delivered this well with many other bands.
As the disc flips over, we are welcomed home by the familiar voice of Sarah Martin into ‘When you’re not with me’, another personal highlight of the album. This has a ‘Reclaim the Night’ feel from ‘A Bit of Previous’; enchanting, enticing and constantly teasing a crescendo. The experience of listening could be compared to that of walking the streets at night – calm, enigmatic… and as if life is bearing its truths a little more easily. Again, the combination of vocal performance, lyrics and overall musical artistry brings with it a Belle & Sebastian-esque honesty and strength along with it.
‘I don’t know what you see in me’ deviates from the theme and sound of the album, but stands strong and alone as a single should. It is certainly the most musically interesting of the album, and draws you into its world. It is a fresher sounding, more contemporary Belle & Sebastian song.
Venturing later into side-B, ‘Do you follow’ introduces a further level of quality to the album, and is far more than just an appetiser for the closing tracks. It is musically diverse and a riddle. It seems to layer and become deeper as the audience progresses through it. Other than the bassline, the song is almost unrecognisable upon its completion. I love the hopeful desperation in “waiting like a coiled spring / for the telephone to ring”. The Belle & Sebastian genius isn’t going away anytime soon.
And then, wow. ‘When the Cynics Stare Back from the Wall’, is an instant Belle & Sebastian classic. It can’t just be listened to once in a sitting. This is another song which lyrically begins immediately. No time to wait - ‘what has to be said, must be said now.’ It’s a straightforward yet a comfortingly tangled and elaborate track.
I am not in any way flippant when I say, this song is monumental. It is the living, breathing representation of the here and now. It already has its own legacy, and it’s only been out for a few weeks.
The mix and overlap of Murdoch and Martin’s voices on this track is possibly the best it’s ever been. I’m still finding new things from it on each listen. The subtle jazz-like trickle of piano, the tender rhythmic guitar. It is an absolute gem. If you are to listen to one song from this album, make it this one. It has everything.
“And the hardest thing / Is to walk towards the things you need / When the things you want / Are like vision for the blind”
The title track then closes the album, providing the perfect ending to the album, with further lively and rhythmic music, coupled with lyrics that are sombre at times. The closing lines serve as a reminder of the typically fascinating and complex Belle & Sebastian.
“The object of your love, prob’ly don’t exist”
Whether this really is the best Belle & Sebastian album yet, or I just really like songs that have ‘when’ in the title for you to decide…
Either way, Belle & Sebastian are “my kind of daydream”, what a real joy this album is.
Stuart Murdoch, Sarah Martin, Stevie Jackson. Thank you, thank you, thank you.