Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Belle & Sebastian - "If She Wants Me"

Barring some unforeseen critical turnaround, my favorite Belle & Sebastian material will always remain their output from the '90s. Nevertheless, I'll admit that they have managed some gems in the '00s. Simply by virtue of the weak competition, perhaps, even substandard Belle & Sebastian songs probably rank among the last decade's best. Their crap is better than most bands' greatest hits.

At the time, critics hailed Dear Catastrophe Waitress as sort of a "comeback" or a "return to form" for B&S after the inconsistent Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant, mostly because Stuart Murdoch reclaimed lead singer/songwriter duties. It's not one of my favorite Belle & Sebastian albums though, and I wouldn't even necessarily say that it's better than Fold Your Hands, come to think of it. Sure, the songs are well-crafted, but can't you hear the craft a little too much? Dear Catastrophe Waitress is the sound of a really talented band with a great record collection not really feeling the need to make particularly consequential music. Stuart sounds like he's happy - which is great, but maybe not for his art.

The band released three singles from the album, but my favorite track, "If She Wants Me," was actually not one of those three. It's not an obvious "standout track." Maybe that's why I like it more than the others.

I believe someone once coined the phrase "retrogressive" to describe Belle & Sebastian, and that phrase is quite applicable here. The song has a wonderful English blue-eyed soul vibe. Witness the funky bass line and rhythm guitar, the jazzy piano, the Philly Soul strings, and the Music From Big Pink-esque organ solo. And yet the song does not sound like a recreation or a facsimile. Belle & Sebastian aren't a "60s revival" band. They are a '00s band with judiciously chosen '60s influences. I must also add that there is one particular note in this song which allows Murdoch to display the loveliest, most delicate falsetto in the whole wide universe.

As with most Belle & Sebastian material, I appreciated the music long before I ever bothered paying attention to the lyrics. I figured they were chirpy and pleasant, like the melody. They're actually rather enigmatic, with a touch of apathy and frustration sorely missing from the rest of the album:
I wrote a letter on a nothing day
I asked somebody “Could you send my letter away?”
“You are too young to put all of your hopes in just one envelope”
I said goodbye to someone that I love
It’s not just me, I tell you it’s the both of us
And it was hard
Like coming off the pills that you take to stay happy
Nice. I'm always a sucker for Stuart Murdoch anti-depressant references. Not so big on the Christianity references however:
Someone above has seen me do alright
Someone above is looking with a tender eye
Upon your face, you may think you’re alone but you may think again
Murdoch has always dropped a Christian turn of phrase here and there, but on this album, for some reason, he decided to go all-out: "At the time I was writing it I thought, well, should I be so overt? Because I've often couched any religious overtones within characters in the past, but this is a bit more out there. And then I just thought, come on, you've been doing this for years, why not? Why not just be a bit more straightforward?"

I can tell you why not. Because it's silly is why not. I sincerely hope Murdoch's faith doesn't rest on the notion of "someone above," which I personally think is a dangerous concept because it encourages people to think that the events in their life happen for some deep, all-powerful reason, which sets them up for a huge philosophical crisis once something terrible and seemingly "pointless" happens. But this is the only, and I mean only, aspect of Stuart Murdoch's art that I don't cherish with every fiber of my being. So like Jesus, I'll forgive him.

Besides, the song's final verse is one of those beautiful Belle & Sebastian verses that manages to say nothing and yet say all there is to really say:
I took a book and went into the forest
I climbed the hill, I wanted to look down on you
But all I saw was twenty miles of wilderness so I went home

1 comment:

Little Earl said...

So: a couple of nights ago I was woken up by the sound of someone blasting his or her car stereo. I started listening to the bass line, and then it hit me: this person was blasting Belle & Sebastian's "If She Wants Me"! Yeah, man, you are one bad ass dude, blasting Belle & Sebastian at 3:00 in the morning. Rock 'n' roll.