Belle and Sebastian
A Bit of Previous is the tenth studio album by Belle and Sebastian andtheir first full-length in seven years. This may be surprising to anyonefollowing the recent life pursuits of the Glasgow 7-piece: The Boaty Weekender– a 3000 capacity star-studded four-day music festival on a cruise linersailing the Mediterranean; a trilogy of EP’s; a soundtrack for the directorialdebut of The Inbetweeners’ Simon Bird; a live album showcasing the band’spresent-day iteration as savvy main stage entertainers; and in 2020 acollaborative project with fans called ‘Protecting The Hive’. But in all theseidiosyncratic endeavours, as intrinsic to the band’s DNA as the stage invasionat the end of each of their shows, a full-length has eluded us.
A Bit Of Previous is a classic Belle and Sebastian album preoccupiedwith songs and melodies that won’t leave your head and lyrics that can make yousmile and ponder and sometimes be melancholic. It’s an album self-produced andrecorded by Belle and Sebastian (with contributions from Brian McNeill, MattWiggins, Kevin Burleigh and Shawn Everett) and their most hands-on since TheBoy With The Arab Strap.
In some respects, A Bit Of Previous is also a first. It’s thefirst album the band recorded in their native Glasgow in 20 years (the lastbeing 2000’s Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant). Whatstarted off as a pandemic necessity – having to ditch plans to record inCalifornia in spring of 2020 – became a refreshing change of pace. Unbeholdento restrictive and expensive studio schedules, it allowed for long walksthrough the streets and parks of Glasgow and spontaneous train journeys tonearby towns which embedded proceedings with a peculiar sense of place. Theband upgraded their practice space to a makeshift studio, making some creativeinterior design choices to keep it pandemic safe.
A Bit of Previous is Belle and Sebastian taking on ageand getting older and emerging all the more vital for it. ‘Young And Stupid’ isa stuttering acoustic rocker that without its lilting violin might be mistakenfor a T. Rex song, the lyrics and nonchalant vocals facing the passage of timewith wry ennui: “Now we’re old with creaking bones / Some with partners somealone / Some with kids and some with dogs / Gettingthrough the nightly slog / Everything is fine when you’re young and stupid”.‘Come On Home’, with its fireside piano and conversational exchanges betweenMurdoch and Martin, evokes a handing over of the generational baton with a callto “Give a chance to the old / Set the record straight on the welfare state/ Give a chance to the young / Everyone deserves a life in the sun”.
While the arrangements are often playful, there is an underlyinggravity. The deceptively feelgood, choir backed ‘If They’re Shooting At You’reads like a poignant ode to defiance and survival: ‘If they’re shooting atyou kid / You must be doing something right”. On Martin’s ‘Reclaim TheNight’, a jaunty backbeat tells of a cross-generational everywoman trepidationthat in 2022 is more pertinent than ever.
A Bit of Previous is also scattered with big, occasionally deliriouspop moments. ‘Unnecessary Drama’ rips through a cacophony of overdriven riffsand a droning harmonica that borders on the unhinged and is one of the band’s heaviestoutings since, well, ever. The 140+ bpm ’Talk To Me Talk To Me’ is ablaze witheuro synths and keyboard horns as the voices of Murdoch and Martin intertwineon a breathless chorus. ‘Working Boy in New York City’ exists in a paralleluniverse where the band did in fact make it to California – such is theescapist bliss of its sloping flute and bittersweet funk.
On the other side of the spectrum are some of Belle and Sebastian’smost moving ballads. Tender finger-picked paean to a lover ‘Do It For YourCountry’ and doo-wop-inflicted ‘Sea Of Sorrow’ showcase Murdoch’s tenor at itsmost bare and affecting, while Stevie Jackson contributes lovelorn countrywaltz ‘Deathbed of My Dreams’.
So what is a A Bit of Previous? It’s a bit of everything, and alot of what makes Belle and Sebastian so special and enduring. It’s a bandtackling the insight, experience and responsibility that come with gettingolder with humour and irreverence and lyrical exactitude and musical bravado.It’s one of the UK’s most beloved pop portraitists asserting themselves as aninfallible source of energy and fun.
There’s a touch of Buddhism, too, a practice increasingly influentialon Murdoch’s outlook in recent years and given a further manifestation via hispopular weekly guided online meditation sessions. The album title is possibly areference to the concept of reincarnation. As Murdoch notes in the linernotes: “There is a firmly held belief inBuddhism that we have been reborn so many times and in so many guises that ifwe look around us, we are bound to see a person who has been our mother in apast life. And we are surrounded by people who have been our children. If wetruly had that in our minds and in our hearts, we would drop the prejudice wehad: our attitude to strangers and difficult people would alter emphatically.”
Belle and Sebastian