Mercury Prize shortlist nominees (number: 2004)
Dear Catastrophe Waitress signals a new and exciting chapter in the Belle & Sebastian story. It's their first record for Rough Trade Records, after they signed a four album deal last summer. And they've decided to use pop producer Trevor Horn. It's quite a change from their previous release, the rather underwhelming Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant.
Setting their stall out early doors, opening track and forthcoming single, "Step Into My Office Baby", comes swinging in with jaunt to spare. Documenting a corporate romance like it's the soundtrack to an Ealing comedy, the song showcases a diverse range of instrumentation and a rather nifty tempo shift. Lyrically, it positively hums with pithy couplets like 'She gave me some dictation, but my strength is in administration', recalling similar territory from earlier single, "Legal Man".
The jolly mood continues on the title track, revelling in up-tempo string flourishes. "I'm A Cuckoo" packs a big brass section and a frisky drum beat that skips along like kids let out of school early. The lazy, jazz-tinged guitar which opens standout track, "If She Wants Me", has a whiff of The Style Council about it, but don't be scared. Horn manages to restrain himself here, showing an admirable light touch, adding deft dashes of strings and a couple of sparring keyboards.
"Wrapped Up In Books" shows the clearest lineage from earlier works and it's a fine, pacey number with good harmonies. Indeed, the old B&S sound hasn't been completely ditched, so diehards can breathe a (fey) sigh of relief that Horn's influence hasn't resulted in a new, high-energy disco direction.
Saving the best 'til last, "Stay Loose" is the most radical departure, letting Horn off the leash with a spiky organ line laid over the guitar and bass pulse from David Bowie's "Ashes To Ashes". And, if that wasn't curious enough, the heavily processed vocal could have been lifted from a slice of 80s synth pop and it all goes a bit Squeeze in the chorus.
Dear Catastrophe Waitress is ultimately, the sound of a band who've shifted the goalposts of their ambitions. Some may feel that the gravitas and poignancy of yore has been sacrificed for pop accessibility, but this record will pick up more converts than it will alienate purists and, whilst it may not be their finest 48 minutes, it's far from a catastrophe.
Review courtesy of 6 Music