A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #41 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
It’s hard not to root for Jack Black and Katrina and the Waves in that scene from Hi-Fidelity. You know the one—Jack storms into the record store, tears a Belle and Sebastian CD out of the overhead play in a fit of rage and replaces it with “Walking on Sunshine.” Jack’s supposed to come off as the villain, but at their worst Belle & Sebastian are exactly that band—the whiny group that can be needling when you’re in a good mood. There’s more to Belle and Sebastian, though, and much of it makes up for the needling. When they’re at their best they add a layer of smart, pitch-black humor to their twee sound. The precious melodies and the fragile vocals aren’t nearly as cloying when they’re used as the setting for dark stories told with wit.
The title track from their second album, If You’re Feeling Sinister, is a perfect example. It’s about two young suicides. It’s about alienation and loneliness. It’s about sexual abuse. It’s about the inability of troubled souls to find worthwhile help from the expected sources. But B&S don’t wallow in tragedy here. The lyrics are unemotional, distant and snarky.
It feels like a parody of some particularly depressing after school special. The effect would probably fall flat completely if the music wasn’t as strangely moving as it is. It’s a simple four chord song, but the melody is beautiful and catchy. It’s also arranged and mixed with tons of atmosphere. From a quiet, ambient kind of opening it builds steadily to a nice crescendo. The unmistakable sounds of children playing in a schoolyard run through the whole thing, pushed up in the mix occasionally for emphasis. It’s an affecting little touch.
So stop by and check out Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister (781.66 BEL). It’s the band’s all around best. I can even promise you won’t eject the CD in a fit of Jack-Blackian rage.
Review by Matthew