Back in the day (eg in the nineties), Belle & Sebastian were renowned for the extraordinarily high quality of their EPs, so it's great to see the band returning to the format, perfect for their smart indie pop. How To Solve Our Human Problems has been released as three separate EPs, but is also available all together, either on a single CD or in a vinyl box-set.
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There's always been a lot to like about Belle and Sebastian over the years but one of their big bugbears is when they let anybody but Stuart Murdoch sing. Suddenly it sounds less like Belle and Sebastien than any given half baked indie-poppers. He always adds a touch of class even on their worst moments. Opener 'Sweet Dew Lee' is not the best place to start with this collection of their three EPs but it has been chosen as the opener and pretty much makes me want to go home. Murdoch only makes a cameo appearance and does nothing to lift the song out of the abyss.
The problem with this record is that it often lacks the melodic and lyrical dexterity of before. They seem to have slid into a pattern of writing just two kind of songs 1) tedious plodders ('Fickle Season') 2) upbeat indie disco thumpers ('The Girl Doesn't Get It') with not much in-between. I wonder what has happened to the rustic autumnal band whose melodies once recalled Love and Nick Drake. These songs are slathered in cheap synths and glitterball dynamics and lack the bold arrangements that made songs such as 'Step into My Office, Baby' such unexpected treats. They try a similar kind of soulful stomp on 'Show Me the Sun' which reaps some kind of bouncy rewards but the production here sounds poundland and Murdoch just isn't around enough vocally to bring the record together as an entity.
But...but just when you were about to give up along comes 'A Plague On Other Boys' which is much more like the Belle and Sebastien we used to know with a lovely '60s bubblegum pop inspired. But songs like 'Too Many Tears' sound more like Beautiful South than anything else. It's all too cheesy and naff - they always were prone to that, but it seems that here Belle and Sebastien have given up being a good band. There a couple of moments especially towards the end of the record ('There Is An Everlasting Sound' is another moment Murdoch finds his muse) which remind you why you liked them in the first place but a lot of this is just piffle.
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