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Belle & Sebastian | Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade)
Heroes to many, a sad joke to others, Belle & Sebastian can inspire both obsession and disgust from various quarters. That may be changing, however, as 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' sees the band shedding their middle-class, intellectual-only, folk image. In its place, these twelve tracks bring an all-new Belle & Sebastian: poppy, polished, confident, realised and accessible. Step Into My Office, Baby is a cheeky and playful opener, If She Wants Me is a light and fluffy sing-along, I'm A Cuckoo is a blatant Thin Lizzy tribute and the closing track, Stay Loose, would have been a sure-fire hit in the '80s. Though the band denies Trevor Horn has heavily influenced their sound, much can be read into their unflinching willingness to employ him in the first place.
For those old school fans currently despairing in their bedrooms, there are a few (yes, just a few) tasty treats on offer. The almost-lost gem, Lord Anthony, has thankfully been revived and will now stand alongside countless early E.P. and album tracks as a classic. Piazza, New York Catcher is a Donovan-esque acoustic song of sexual confusion and books ?? things that made 'old' songs so great. However, they do feel like something of a cop-out by Stuart Murdoch. For such an otherwise-radical album, these 'traditional' tracks somehow feel out of place.
Those who have remained loyal will probably feel disappointed upon the first few listens and the album does have some 'grower' potential. But whilst there are encouraging signs (Sarah Martin's blossoming voice, Trevor Horn not destroying the band completely, Stuart Murdoch reining in songwriting controls) sparks of genius are few and far between ?? especially considering this is Belle & Sebastian's longest album to date. Overall, 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress' is a sweeping change ?? too drastic for many ?? to something almost completely unrecognisable as that shy, retiring group from Glasgow.

Chris Horkan
CWAS #13 - Autumn 2003