“If I had a camera I’d snap you now cause there’s beauty in every stumble—” our wise sage Stuart Murdoch recounts in the heart of opener “Nobody’s Empire,” both easing and stirring our antsy minds as we ask the question: will our favorite Glaswegians knock it out of the park once again or will we be forced to find the beauty in the stumble?
The album opens with the track from which I just quoted from, and this opener has everything to appease your Belle and Sebastian pop sensibilities. From the beginning, the band doles out the whimsy you’ve come to expect: the whole song revolves around the sing-songy melody as Stuart spins you a nostalgic tale of looking back and you just want to sing along. It seems as though he is revisiting those gloomy times that served as the setting for albums like If You’re Feeling Sinister. Now, far away from that darkness he is able to look back with wise eyes and celebrate them—which seems to be the spirit of this album from the very start.
Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance is long and sprawling, stretching farther than an hour in length, and in this time you’ll find there are a wide variety of tracks that Belle and Sebastian add to their vast catalogue. The band goes down the synth pop road with songs like “The Party Line” and “Enter Sylvia Plath,” both of which see the band at their most electronic and straying from soft-spoken whimsical pop and their bluesy rock and into something new. However, through these numbers you still have the finesse that this band brings always: the songs are orchestrations far from strewn together haphazardly.
Where this album really shines, though, is on the subtler numbers that you don’t even reach until after the midpoint of the album: I’m looking at you “The Everlasting Muse.” This band is the best at storytelling, and so naturally “The Everlasting Muse” is a winding tale of an elusive and mysterious lady. Instrumentally, this track is one of the most interesting tracks this band has crafted, and they utilize all their skills with such ease and control. The song begins quietly with a grooving bass line, small drumbeats, Stuart’s soft vocals, little nuanced piano and synth parts, and electric guitar all simmering together in harmony. Then the whole thing flips on itself into the chorus, which is a bombastic and swaying, polka-esque spin, complete with handclaps and violin. But then the band switches back to a kicked up version of the verse, and now Stuart is complimented with Sarah Martin’s breathy vocals and Stevie Jackson’s electric guitar licks intensify. They try to tell you that “beauty crumbles with the years,” right before they jump into a glorious instrumental bridge/segue with horns before launching into the masterful end of the song where everyone comes together to sing and contribute and you have a little trouble believing what they tell you.
Somehow, Belle and Sebastian haven’t stumbled or lost any of their beauty. Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance marks their ninth studio album and yet another graceful step in their dance of a career. These Glaswegian heroes make music that glides through genres, but still remains quintessentially the wistful pop we fell in love with almost twenty years ago: “The music is for us.”