There are two distinct and equally great sides to Belle & Sebastian’s career: 1996 to 2003 and 2003 to now. Their fifth album, 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress found Belle & Sebastian jumping to Rough Trade Records with a new clean and slickly produced sound. Gone were the standard album openings of whispering vocals backed by a quietly strummed acoustic guitar; Belle & Sebastian came out to delightfully shock everyone with modern pop songs. The Third Eye Centre collects the b-sides to Belle & Sebastian’s three albums from this period: 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2006’s The Life Pursuit and 2010’s Write About Love.
Much like their DVD, this release is very much “For Fans Only”. Though there are a good handful of tracks that very much hold their own, I can’t imagine a casual fan gravitating to this as a standalone record. Seeing that I am not a casual fan, I will praise this collection as an interesting look in to their later years and the creation of their last 3 records. What gets left behind is sometimes more interesting for wondering why it was left behind.
Starting with a batch of Dear Catastrophe Waitress b-sides, we can understand why some were left off, not for of any weakness of the song, but for just not fitting in. Guitarist Stevie Jackson’s “(I Believe in) Travellin’ Light” is a quiet gem that would have fit in great with say, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, but doesn’t quite fit in with the other hi-fi pop songs. “Love on the March” is a strange jazzy number that works on its own, but would have stuck out like a sore thumb if included on Dear Catastrophe Waitress. “Desperation Made a Fool of Me” and “Your Secrets” are definitely the closest you’ll get to songs that were worthy for Dear Catastrophe Waitress, their shimmering guitars and groovy baselines would have fit right in, but I guess album length always plays a part in decision making,
The promoted song off this record is “Your Cover’s Blown”, originally released in a slightly different version on the Books EP promoting the track “Wrapped Up in Books”, is possibly their most unique sound to date. It’s more DFA Records than it is Rough Trade, and they wear it well. Out of anything on this compilation, this is definitely the strongest song, and easily could have worked as its own single, but just wouldn’t have worked on Catastrophe.
2006’s The Life Pursuit is one of my favourite records. I could go on about how perfect I think that record is, from Stuart Murdoch’s strongest melodic hooks ever written, the unreal rhythm section in “We Are the Sleepy Heads”, to Stevie’s perfect closing guitar solo in “Mornington Crescent”. The b-sides left off of The Life Pursuit are mostly on par with the level of songs that did make the cut on that record. The two that shine most however, are “Meat and Potatoes” and the song the record was named after “The Life Pursuit”. “Meat and Potatoes” is Murdoch at his wittiest as he describes a couple failing to bring some new excitement to a dull sex life. Stevie “Reverb” also brings a subtle punch to this song, following the narration of the story like a second voice, with the reverberated classic sound he’s known for. “The Life Pursuit” is aptly titled, as it comes and goes like life itself: from a rocking number to a slowed down breezy ballad, then fading off like a dream. It could have easily closed the same named album, and is the most a-side worthy of the group of these b-sides.
There isn’t too much to be said about the Write About Love b-sides as there only happen to be three of them. They all mostly sound like they are suited for the record they were recorded for. They seemed to have a definite sound they wanted to achieve for that record before starting the recording process. “Suicide Girl” could have been an easy and successful single for the band, as it’s one of the most straightforward structured pop songs they’ve made. This could just as well have been the reason it was left off.
It’s always a thrill to find out there are more songs you haven’t heard from some of your favourite records, and this is what this compilation is all about. If you love the past three Belle & Sebastian records, than this is like striking a gold mine. But if you are just a casual, or even a new fan of Belle & Sebastian fan, than I don’t see this record doing much for you. It is after all just one giant B-Side, it’s not what you really paid for, but it’s nice to have.
Tags: Belle & Sebastian