Glasgow indie rock legends Belle and Sebastian have released their much-awaited tenth studio album, A Bit Of Previous. The record has been described in a press release as “a spirited and energetic return, which sees the band nearing their third decade with irreverence, grace and musical bravado, as well as tackling weightier subject matter”. Let’s dive into the new album and see if this rings true.
A Bit of Previous is the first album the group have recorded in their hometown of Glasgow in over 20 years. Original plans to record the tenth studio LP overseas in Los Angeles were scrapped due to the difficulties related to the pandemic over the past two years. With seven years having passed since the last Belle and Sebastian album – excluding 2019’s soundtrack for the Simon Bird film Days Of The Bagnold Summer – the group couldn’t hold out any longer and fortunately got cracking on their new material on home soil amid the Covid-19 drama.
On first listen to isolated tracks, A Bit of Previous appears to do just what it says on the tin. The sound is intrinsically bound to the band’s tried and tested DNA and gives flashbacks to some of the beautiful moments in their previous work. But as one listens more closely and takes a deeper dive into the record as a whole, the originality shines through in Stuart Murdoch’s ever-intriguing lyrical contributions.
The album comes as a creatively sprawling diary entry for the band as they mark another chapter in their history. The lyrical musings bring us through poignant and evocative imagery with an overarching theme of sentimentality. The music explores the insight, experience and responsibility that comes with age with their trademark touch of whimsical humour, catchy melody and poetic charm.
Frontman Murdoch also draws in strands of influence from his interest and involvement in Buddhism in recent years. The singer has found spiritual peace and strength in his now-popular weekly guided online meditation sessions. As the press release suggests, the album’s title is a reference to the Buddhist concept of reincarnation.
Murdoch states in the liner notes: “There is a firmly held belief in Buddhism that we have been reborn so many times and in so many guises that if we look around us, we are bound to see a person who has been our mother in a past life. And we are surrounded by people who have been our children. If we truly had that in our minds and in our hearts, we would drop the prejudice we had: our attitude to strangers and difficult people would alter emphatically.”
The album kicks off with the vibrant and bouncing acoustic number, ‘Young And Stupid’. The music brings a charming optimism while Murdoch sings: “Now we’re old with creaking bones / Some with partners some alone / Some with kids and some with dogs / Getting through the nightly slog / Everything is fine when you’re young and stupid”. The lyrics track the passing of time through fleeting images of different characters, seemingly from a stance of elderly wisdom.
The band’s inherent whimsical nature plays with the mind as the subject matter occasionally lists towards darker and more melancholy themes. In the record’s second track, ‘If They’re Shooting At You’, the lyrics ostensibly lash out at the unfortunate nature of the world we live in, whereby the establishment’s modus operandi isn’t always the most ethically correct. “If they’re shooting at you kid / You must be doing something right”.
Later, with ‘Come On Home’, Murdoch and Sarah Martin continue to explore a political theme with a soulful lyrical exchange that calls for social equality and preservation. Over the jaunty rhythm, Murdoch sings: “Give a chance to the old / Set the record straight on the welfare state / Give a chance to the young / Everyone deserves a life in the sun”.
The album finds a healthy balance with punchy and gregarious hits like ‘Unnecessary Drama’ and ‘Working Boy in New York City’, which linger in the mind long after the listen with their catchy rhythms. At the other end of the scale lies a collection of beautifully delicate and considered ballads such as ‘Do It For Your Country’ and Steve Jackson’s mournful and crooning country excursion, ‘Deathbed of My Dreams’.
Belle and Sebastian have returned with a triumphant tenth instalment for their discographic diary. ‘A Bit of Previous’ is as quaint as it is eye-opening with its offerings of poetic wisdom and catchy, timeless melodies. We hope it won’t be so long a wait for the 11th album.
Stream the full album below.