Now what does Belle & Sebastian sound like to my untrained ear? “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” is an album laced with pop-oriented hooks, quirky lyrics and of course, the easy, subtle Scottish accent of one Stuart Murdoch. As a seven-piece band, Belle & Sebastian undoubtedly possesses that big-band atmosphere-a large variety of gaudy, unfamiliar instruments infused with the traditional guitar-drum combination. In fact, the instrumentation borders on chaos with so many things going on at once, but to be sure, it is a pretty chaos. “Pretty” is perhaps the term that comes foremost to my mind when I listen to this album; it is a decidedly pretty album.
Belle & Sebastian may be consistently hailed as a favorite in indie circles all around, but the sheer accessibility of their music almost demands that they be placed smack in the middle of the mainstream. It’s fluttery, sugary music-easily digestible, easily groovable. However, if anyone were to attempt to piece together the lyrical content of each song into some overriding theme he would end up half crazy, like I did. It is virtually impossible. Belle & Sebastian’s lyrics are all over the place, with elements of the fantastical and digressional as well as the practical, all wrapped together in only a stanza or two.
Perhaps the sixth track “I’m a Cuckoo” best represents the surreal atmosphere of this album. As if they were telling two different stories, the instrumentalists boom out a very catchy, easygoing melody, while Murdoch bellows out his down-trodden, somewhat needy lyrics. “I’m happy for you / Now I know this hurt is poison / Too sharp to be bled / I’m sitting on my empty bed / On my empty bed / At night the fever grows it’s pounding, pounding,” sings Murdoch, almost cheerfully. Slowly a certain trend becomes apparent: how easily Belle & Sebastian sing about sadness, how mundane their treatment of it is. “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” is a quiet celebration of sorts, of the strife and heartbreak that everyone must endure.
However, Belle & Sebastian does make sure to display a bit of their sense of humor in the folksy “Piazza, New York Catcher.” An obvious reference to the hoopla that resulted when Mike Piazza, the New York Mets’ star catcher, was rumored to be gay, Murdoch casually asks, “Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?” The sarcasm that drips from Murdoch’s voice conveys how inconsequential such information really is, and is quite possibly Murdoch at his satirical best.
But mere analysis is boring. Forget about the lyrical investigations and the dry, stiff comments about the groove-laden hooks-how does this music make me feel? It has a somewhat calming influence. It is laid-back. It allows me to think, to ignore it for a bit if need be. I can zone out in the midst of track two and return for the tail-end of track seven, and I would still be right where I left off. The album is just one big wave of an aura-of comfortable carelessness, of blissful obliviousness, the works. Come listen if you need a jolt of subtle energy, or if you just want something to bop your head to. At the same time, if you want something you can ignore while you get some reading done, this can also be your album. If the sugariness offends you, just remember: the guy is merely cuckoo, a clear catastrophe.