Six years into their recording career, Belle & Sebastian are now showing signs of a band coming into full maturity. They've spawned side-projects (Looper, Gentle Waves...), done world tours and now they've been commissioned by quirky film director Todd Solondz to score his latest movie, 'Storytelling'. Although commercially the film was somewhat of a flop and singer Stuart Murdoch has been openly critical of Solondz's use of the band's music in the film, 'Storytelling' the soundtrack exceeds the standards of a typical film soundtrack and forces a situation whereby a film soundtrack is actually more enjoyable than the film itself.
The record defines what can be described as the band's new more 'freer', 'open' sound and builds on the lusher, more fuller sound that the band explored on the preceding singles 'Jonathan David' and 'I'm Waking up To Us'. 'Fiction' starts off the record with a flowing, gentle piano melody before being joined by underlying acoustics, cello and string sections to create the hazy, dreamy and pretty much surreal atmosphere that dominates most of this record. One criticism of this album is that the instrumentals which form a large bulk of it are largely homogenous and don't often stray from the same formula and once you've heard one of them, you've pretty much heard them all. However, there is one notable exception, the oddly titled 'Fuck This Shit' consists of Stevie Jackson taking lead on harmonica playing one of the catchiest tunes you are ever likely to hear, slowly gathering pace, meandering its way through the background cello section and delivering a sublime melody that in some way manages to reflect the apathy of the title.
Although the instrumentals reflect the band's full capabilities, there is still room for some classic Belle & Sebastian on this album. 'Wandering Alone' is the band at their best; catchy lyrics, funky music, multi-layered vocals and 'Scooby Driver' would've fitted perfectly as a B-side to 'Legal Man'. One thing that does drag this album down though is the inclusion of dialogue from the film. They prove to be largely unnecessary and really don't have any continuity. Unless you've actually seen the film they don't really do much apart from fragment the record as whole and make you reach for the 'skip' button.
What has to be remembered about this album is that it's not a typical Belle & Sebastian album but a film score, and when placed in that context it succeeds in what it was supposed to do - to provide an accompaniment to what was in reality a pretty weak piece of cinema - and if you don't go into it expecting another 'Tigermilk' you'll probably get a lot more out of it. It's not the best album the band have ever made and if they can take what they've learnt to their next record, it'll be something pretty special. Besides, an album that finishes with a track called 'Big John Shaft' can't be too bad can it?
6nafees saeed's Score