& & by Mike Corrigan & & & &
This latest from Belle & amp; Sebastian finds reluctant band leader Stuart Murdoch getting back on track after the confoundingly dilute Boy with the Arab Strap -- where the thematic and stylistic threads that had held so much of the band's early work together seemed to be unraveling terribly. Fear not, B & amp;S fans, for Fold Your Hands is probably this Glasgow-based collective's strongest collection since 1997's exquisite If You're Feeling Sinister.
Murdoch and his not-necessarily-merry band have crafted another worthy entry in their growing discography of song collections bursting with perfectly pretty, mildly melodramatic sonic jewels for reveling in rainy days and nursing broken hearts.
The thing is, although the songwriting (with one or two minor exceptions) here is strong, one cannot help but feel that the non-Stuart compositions are filler compared to the literary might (not to mention soft-as-snow but warm inside vocal delivery) of the group's acknowledged leader. Entries like "Beyond the Sunrise" and "The Wrong Girl" are good, but ultimately have the effect of making you long like hell for the next Murdoch-penned masterpiece; mere diversions to be endured on the road to something several magnitudes more sublime.
"I Fought In a War" and "The Chalet Lines" are delicate, beautiful bummers. "Don't Leave the Light On Baby" is Hammond-rich and bittersweet. "The Model" and especially, the maddeningly catchy "Women's Realm" (where Stuart self-consciously observes: "An interesting way of life/Deny yourself the benefits of being alive") are gloriously lyrical, up-tempo celebrations of innocence, loneliness and delicious self-absorption. Belle & amp; Sebastian are back, and I love them, I must confess.