Review: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance by Belle and Sebastian

Alex Jenkins 6 February 2015

Belle and Sebastian’s ninth album has the sound of a band grown confident with age.  Far removed from the shy, bookish twenty-somethings they once were, Stuart Murdoch and co. have assumed their role as indie-pop idols with ease.  But while Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is imbued with the band’s usual wit and charm, their newfound maturity is not without its drawbacks.

Perhaps the most noticeable change on this album is the wealth of different styles and genres Belle and Sebastian dabble in.  For a group that is so often typecast as twee and indie (sometimes deservingly), they are remarkably versatile here.  The boldest experiment is 'The Party Line', which sounds like a wordier take on Daft Punk’s disco-funk thump.  The playful dancefloor beat on 'The Book of You' and the dreamy synths on 'The Power of Three' work brilliantly, but 'The Everlasting Muse' is the most impressive exploration of sounds here, deftly jumping from seductive jazz shuffle to loud folky sing-along chorus.  The standout tracks, however, are very much classic B&S. 'The Cat with the Cream' puts Murdoch’s fragile, wistful vocals in focus above a bed of softly stirring strings, while 'Nobody’s Empire' builds a few simple chords into a thrillingly triumphant conclusion.

For all its peaks, the album often feels uneven and poorly paced.  'Enter Sylvia Plath' barges in midway through the proceedings with a gratingly gaudy synth beat, and the wallowing 'Play for Today' manages to kill all momentum.  The main disappointment, though, is the conspicuous lack of Stuart Murdoch’s lyrical storytelling; the yearning and nostalgia that Murdoch captured so well in the band’s earlier songs is all but lost here.  He’s still a better lyricist than most, but it’s telling that his best lyrics on the album are about fighting writer’s block, casting his “everlasting muse” as an ethereal figure who is increasingly distant and disdainful.

Nonetheless, Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is a strong effort despite the drawbacks.  Fans will be delighted; newcomers would be better off discovering the band’s 90s classics first.