Belle and Sebastian, Fold Your Hands Child…
Pop music’s a strange world, isn’t it? My biggest criticism of crap bands is that they release album after album of the same dreck. On the other hand, if Belle and Sebastian ever change, I’ll be crushed. Obviously, the crucial difference here being that B & S don’t write crap tunes.
Having said that, the Glaswegians’ new album Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like A Peasant is not strictly more of the same. Neither is it an album-long exploration into the oddities given us on the recent “Legal Man” single. “I Fought in a War” is a ‘typical’ opening track for them. It begins quietly with only Stuart Murdoch’s voice and acoustic guitar and grows. Its sound is broader than before. Stuart seems more comfortable in his voice. It is still tender but not as hidden. Strings and a recurring horn part stretch the song out a bit.
The additional instrumentation is more important on this album than those in the past. Whereas in the past, B&S have used the odd horn or string instrument within their folk rock setting to personalize a certain song, here the other instruments are used together to create a more orchestral sound. Though it is one that never gets too ‘large’ or tired.
The second song, “The Model,” is the first of many ‘duets’ on the album where the various members trade off vocals. A harpsicord and more strings flesh out the soft piano melody. Fold Your Hands Child retains the soft and melancholy vocals of past B&S releases but the pop songs are more upbeat. Likewise, the brooding songs are more brooding. “Beyond the Sunrise” sounds like a duet between Johnny Cash and Isobel. “Waiting for the Moon to Rise” is a steady rock ballad of Isobel’s. This trio of melancholy songs is finished by a ballad of Stuart’s, “Don’t Leave the Light On Baby” and its too-cool-for-the-1970s Rhodes piano.
“The Wrong Girl” is orchestral pop in a blantant 60s sound that should send the Elephant Six collective crawling into a dark hole for quite some time. “Women’s Realm” as well, with its archetypal B&S-cum-Charlie Brown piano, is another wonderful pop song which stretches its wings with strings and horns. “There’s Too Much Love” closes the album in the pop vein.
The strings and horns may be used to great advantage to flesh out the bigger tunes. But Belle and Sebastian haven’t gone anywhere. They’re still great. The ‘orchestrated’ songs don’t collapse under their own bombast. Their anachronistic pop is still sweet and unaffected. Fold Your Hands Child is an album to get you through the summer.