01 February, 2005



Ooh! Get me away from here I'm dyingPlay me a song to set me freeNobody writes them like they used toSo it may as well be me

With their first album Tigermilk heard only by those in the know (to be publically reissued years later) 1996's If You're Feeling Sinister was the first taste of Scottish soft-rockers Belle & Sebastian for most of the world. And what an introduction it was. By far their most engaging and consistent album, it was the perfect antidote to the angsty grunge which had all but conquered the alternative music world of the early 90s, and helped usher in the "quiet is the new loud" era.
Unashamedly inspired by late-60s folk-rock legends such as Simon & Garfunkel and Nick Drake, and in turn inspiring mellow rock acts like Travis and Turin Brakes, Belle & Sebastian's early sound is deceptively simple. Based around gentle but lively acoustic guitar and piano chord-lines, the music is actually multi-textured and sophisticated, managing to be catchy but never cloying, effortlessly enjoyable on the first play without becoming irritating on subsequent listens. Vocalist Stuart Murdoch's melodies are simultaneuosly joyous and melancholy, poppy in their appeal yet unconventional in their artistry ~ his voice gently boyish, but never light.

Augmenting the mix along with the impish vocals are gorgeous trumpet solos echoing the melody in "The Stars Of Track And Field" and "Judy And The Dream Of Horses", a fantastically upbeat harmonica in "Me And The Major" and gentle strings on the wistful anthem "The Fox In The Snow". The album toes the line in terms of tone, remaining emotionally powerful without ever falling into angst and always maintaining a sense of joi de vivre.

The lyrics meanwhile have the jumbled beauty of an off-the-cuff teenage poet: lovesick and whimsical ~ wryly witty and naïvely cynical. Sexual confusion and barely-bridled lust abound, but with an air of such innocent curiosity, it seems the very songs themselves are giggling and fumbling behind the bike-shed in a pretty Scottish schoolyard. In the delightful "Seeing Other People" Murdoch sings of experimental encounters with charming humour: 'We lay on the bed there / Kissing just for practice / Could we please be objective? / Cause the other boys are queuing up behind us', while in "Judy..." he laments the difficulties of adolescent love with characteristic lightheartedness: "The best looking boys are taken / The best looking girls are staying inside / So Judy, where does that leave you? / Walking the street from morning to night".

For anyone who has been a teenager ~ dreaming of kissing that special someone who never quite met your eye, and reading the classics in battered paperback while the other kids seem to have all the luck ~ Belle & Sebastian's If You're Feeling Sinister is an album with which to curl up like a long-cherished blanket. This is music for remembering your first love, reminiscing about long-faded sunny afternoons or long-melted drifts of snow... and relishing a time when the small things in life still seemed precious.

5 (out of 5)




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