- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2003

Belle & Sebastian

Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Rough Trade Records

The Scottish band Belle & Sebastian proves that in the great mixing bowl of pop music through which the old influences the new, there’s room for everything.

On “Dear Catastrophe Waitress,” the chamber pop group’s latest album, one can hear snatches of not just Beatles, but forgotten AM pop such as that of the Turtles and Sugarloaf and, possibly, the “These Eyes” side of the Guess Who.

Midway through “I’m a Cuckoo,” I’m straining to place the song’s antecedent. Is it Boz Scaggs? Nope. Ah, got it; it’s the Irish hard-rock band Thin Lizzy and “The Boys are Back in Town.”

Lo and behold, the song’s refrain says, “I’d rather be in Tokyo/I’d rather listen to Thin Lizzy-oh.” Except in this rendering, the triple-guitar attack of “Boys” is pacified into something between Carole King and Don McLean.

Fronted by singer-guitarist and chief songwriter Stuart Murdoch, Belle & Sebastian (the name comes from a French children’s TV show) overlays orchestral horns and strings on bright folk-pop laced with clean electric guitars, old synthesizers and tinkling vibes.

It’s all impossibly delicate and brittle and performed with “Jesus Christ Superstar” brio.

What’s not to like?

Belle & Sebastian is not without edge, however. Mr. Murdoch is a clever and caring lyricist, writing mostly about love and romance through a prism of dream impressions, spirituality, pop references or bona fide poetry.

“The rustling leaves and branches bend together/they’re cued to sway/forever by the forces of the Lord’s choreography,” he sings on “Roy Walker.”

On “Piazza, New York Catcher,” he makes sport of urban myths about the baseball star’s sexuality: “San Francisco’s calling us, the Giants and Mets will play/Piazza, New Yorker catcher, are you straight or are you gay?”

Belle & Sebastian is more than the sum of Mr. Murdoch’s talents; even without studio-orchestra musicians, the core band is fully seven pieces, complete with a violinist (Sarah Martin) and a cellist (Isobell Campbell).

The band plays a double-header tonight at the 9:30 Club.

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