Belle and Sebastian–If You’re Feeling Sinister

The next recording up for me in 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die is If You’re Feeling Sinister, by Belle and Sebastian.
Belle and Sebastian
I’ve heard a little bit about Belle and Sebastian, but am largely unfamiliar with their music.

Tom Moon’s caption for the article is “Pop Splendor with A Pinch of Bittersweet.” Moon does say that the album has a sixties feel, which, as you’ll see below, I agree with. His key tracks are “Seeing Other People,” “Me and The Major,” and “The Boy Done Wrong Again.” Lyrically, the album speaks of “nasty breakups, unrealized aspirations, and other disillusionments.” The recording was released in 1997 on Matador records.

The album kicks of with a low key acoustic guitar song, called “The Stars of Track and Field.” This song has a bit of a sixties feel to it, complete with a trumpet solo straight out of a Bacharach/David song. I’ll confess I’m a little puzzled by the meaning of the lyrics. Could be a guy who is infatuated with a girl who doesn’t seem to notice him (while she’s manipulating both girls and boys to get what she wants).

Track 2 is “Seeing Other People.” It’s mostly piano-driven with some vibraphone thrown in between verses. It has a bit of a “musical” feel to it. I’m actually having a bit of trouble coming up with a description of the beat on this one. This song seems to deal with an adolescent couple that can’t decide if they are going to be serious about each other or not.

Track 3 is “Me and The Major.” This song is pretty upbeat, beginning with acoustic guitar and harmonica. The song seems to be about the generation gap, possibly even between a boy and his father.

“Like Dylan In The Movies” is the title of the next track. That’s an interesting title. So far the songs seem to be very similar, with very light instrumentation (light guitar, piano, brushes on the drums), and similar beats. There seems to be a reference to the 1967 Dylan movie, “Don’t Look Back.” Like much of Belle & Sebastian’s lyrics, these are tough to interpret. On the surface, there seems to be a warning to someone against walking through the park alone. “If they follow you, don’t look back.” “It’s not your money they’re after, boy, it’s you.”

Next up is “The Fox In The Snow.” Easy piano and acoustic guitar with a lone violin in the background. Upon the first reading of the lyrics, I was puzzled. But I read an interpretation that compared it to cocaine addiction. Cocaine is frequently referred to as “snow.” I may be way off base, but I believe this song is about people addicted to cocaine.

Next up is “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying.” The first thing I noticed was Pachelbel’s Canon. Yep. The song doesn’t seem to be referring to actual death, but more of an attitude of “I’m dying here, get me out of here.” There seems to be some sarcasm about the state of music and songs being written. Success is gotten by selling out and writing junk. “You could either be successful or be us with our winning smiles, and us with our catchy tunes…”

The title song is next, “If You’re Feeling Sinister.” The beginning features a backdrop of what appears to be children on a playground. At least that’s what I hear. One thing I seem to notice about the songs on this album is that the beat and feel of the music don’t match the lyric content. Is that irony? The lyrics seem to be about suicide, adding that religion is useless to help. It’s a bleak point of view, the first verse seeming to say that, even if one winds up in hell, it has to be better than this life.

The next song is called “Mayfly,” and has a slight country twang to it, musically, at least at the beginning. Maybe a bit of “jangle rock” feel. Vocally, it sounds just like the rest of the songs. I’m sorry, but the lead singer has absolutely no diversity of inflection or vocal tone at all. He sounds exactly the same all the way through this album. Like the rest of the songs, the lyrics seem to be intentionally vague. Perhaps it’s about short term relationships.

Next song is “The Boy Done Wrong Again.” Musically, it consists of light acoustic guitar and bass. By this time, it’s getting tedious to try to figure out what these songs are about.

Finally, the album ends with “Judy and the Dream of Horses.” Again, a soft, acoustic guitar beginning, with a couple of major-seventh chords. There’s another melodic trumpet solo in the middle of this one. There’s a recurring theme of sadness and depression, which, once again, doesn’t fit the feel of the music.

I’m really puzzled as to why Tom Moon would pick this as one of the 1000 recordings I must listen to before I die. If I die before I get to hear something else, I’m going to be pretty upset. In my opinion, this album is a waste of time. Musically, it sounds very much the same, all the way through, and there really isn’t much imagination to the music and instrumentation. It’s worse than just simple. It’s almost juvenile. Several times, I felt like I was listening to a rehearsal for a Broadway musical. You know the kind…like they’re just rehearsing the dance numbers with just a piano in the rehearsal hall. In fact, it almost sounded like the instruments were recorded in a gym with a boombox.

I definitely won’t be listening to this one again.

Regardless of my opinion, I will still always try to post some clips of the music, to let you form your own opinion. Like and dislike of music is, of course, a matter of taste. B & S obviously have a lot of very devoted fans. Here’s a live clip of “Fox in the Snow,” which shows that the lead singer isn’t very good live.

And here’s a studio clip of “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying.” Listen for Pachelbel.

TTFN, y’all!

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3 thoughts on “Belle and Sebastian–If You’re Feeling Sinister

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