Rough Trade - 2006 - 49 minutes
There's always a possibility that commercial success can sever the links between a hitherto cult band and their most ardent fans. 'Dear Catastrophe Waitress', released in 2003, saw Belle and Sebastian take an unexpected move towards the mainstream. Thankfully, the predominantly Scottish outfit have taken a step back from the precipice with their sixth studio album 'The Life Pursuit'.
'DCW' received a lot of unwarranted criticism although, admittedly, it did raise some unsettling uncertainty. However, any suggestions that the group had sacrificed our worship for bulkier bank balances are gloriously dispelled inside the first five songs here.
As soon as lead singer Stuart Murdoch belts out "Oh, if I could make sense of it all" in opener 'Act of The Apostle Part 1' the world is once again a safer, more pleasant place.
'Another Sunny Day' and 'Dress Up in You' are vintage B&S and would sit comfortably on a Greatest Hits should, perish the thought, things ever go that way.
The former includes a typically sumptuous opening couplet from the mercurial Murdoch. "Another sunny day, I met you up in the garden/You were digging plants, I dug you, beg your pardon." The latter is a beautifully bitter attempt to deal with a scenario not unlike the scenario in The Human League's 'Don't You Want Me Baby'. It is the vocal highlight, with Sarah Martin delivering, not for the first time, her backing duties with aplomb. The trumpet use is reminiscent of 'I Fought in a War' from the band's 2000 effort 'Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant'.
Those slices of instant gratification out of the way, it becomes a little more like hard work after that. Glam rock ('White Collar Boy' and 'The Blues are Still Blue') has a surprisingly refreshing bearing on proceedings. Not so welcome is the influence of soul, with 'Song for Sunshine' the only notable mistake. The rest of the tracks may take a while to digest but keep plugging away because the album as a whole can soon become quite addictive.
'The Life Pursuit' is a prudent production. While not quite a complete return to their earlier classic albums such as 'If You're Feeling Sinister', it covers all the bases necessary to keep old fans content and seduce new disciples.
Managed evolution is the key to longevity in the music business and if they continue in their current vein, Murdoch & Co can continue to sell and still save lives for years to come.
Don't worry, it's still us against them, and even if B&S flirt with the enemy, they remain very much on our side.
Tracklisting: Act of the Apostle Part 1 - Another Sunny Day - White Collar Boy - The Blues are Still Blue - Dress Up in You - Sukie in the Graveyard - We are the Sleepyheads - Song for Sunshine - Funny Little Frog - To Be Myself Completely - Act of the Apostle Part 2 - For the Price of a Cup of Tea - Mornington Crescent