Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like A Peasant
Matador / Jeepster
By: Eric G.
Why can’t successful bands just leave well enough alone? Let’s be honest. What’s the best Belle And Sebastian album? Without question it’s If You’re Feeling Sinister. The Boy With The Arab Strap was good- don’t get me wrong- but it hardly reached the sublime beauty and intimacy of its predecessor (even the awkward Tigermilk trumps …Arab Strap). The main reason for …Arab Strap’s slight decline was because Stuart Murdoch passed the microphone to his bandmates far too often, and to a lesser extent because the songwriting wasn’t as consistent. Isobel Campbell has a sweet voice, but it’s also pretty run of the mill when taken out of context. She doesn’t come close to the effortless emotion of Murdoch’s angelic lilt. The other guys in the band really drag things down when they sing. “Seymour Stein” was a laborious chore, and the spoken word of “A Space Boy Dream” was utterly regrettable (luckily, Stuart David has jumped ship, deeming Looper worthy of a full-time gig).
Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like A Peasant suffers the same problem as …Arab Strap. Is Murdoch simply being generous to his bandmates by letting them take center stage, or does he just have less to say? Obviously, the Legal Man EP was a red herring in regards to the band’s “new” musical direction, but Murdoch’s backseat role was duly noted. This album sounds exactly like you’d expect, if you’ve been following the band closely: mid-seventies, post-hippie-era-Kinks, maudlin-folk-pop. Murdoch’s delivery is as effete and coy as ever, and he still sounds like a distant cousin of Nick Drake’s. The songs are slightly overblown with strings and horns, but that’s par for the course with any band trying not to lampoon itself with mindless repetition. Have the disaffected youths been too rash in proclaiming Belle And Sebastian the official replacement for The Smiths? Probably not, but people are all too eager to crown them the new kings of despair.
“I Fought In A War” seems like a classic Belle And Sebastian song on the surface, but it’s drenched in effects, especially Murdoch’s cherished vocals (what is with that awful echo?). The production is also noticeably vastly improved, as is the musicianship. These might seem like trifling differences, but much of the band’s past allure was based on its seemingly accidental brilliance, which came in the form of haphazard playing and awful production values. Listening to If You’re Feeling Sinister was like peeking into someone’s bedroom and hearing a diary being read. Now that the “secret’s out” and people are dropping Belle And Sebastian’s name as a standard meter in hipness, it draws much more attention to the details. Everyone is watching, so it’s hard to behave like a cult band and get away with it.
Regardless of the size of the spotlight on the band these days, the bottom line is the music, and the songs on Fold Your Hands… are pretty amazing for the most part (well, Murdoch’s are). “The Model” sounds instantly familiar- not necessarily as a Belle And Sebastian song but just as a melody or a feeling and, thus, is Stuart Murdoch’s charm. He can sweep you up into his neuroses like they are old friends. He spouts off lines that sound drastically out of character, but he still retains his genuineness: “It was the best sex that she ever had” is delivered with typical fey ambivalence. “Beyond The Sun” is a beautiful duet despite not featuring Murdoch. Campbell sounds absolutely otherworldly here. The band is already blowing holes in my theory. Well, not quite. “Waiting For The Moon To Rise” is an adequate bridge to the next Murdoch song. A sunny piano line can’t disguise the overwhelming gloom of violinist Sarah Martin’s bland cadence.
The “Riders On The Storm”-sounding electric piano of “Don’t Leave The Light On, Baby” nestles warmly underneath Murdoch’s aching affectation. The strings are tasteful here even if the chorus is too saccharine to stomach. The faux-orchestration of “The Wrong Girl” almost goes too far. The music sounds authentic, but the vocals are thin and weak, drawing attention to the fact that the type of song that’s being mimicked would never actually sound this way. Sixties vocalists went out of their way to draw attention to themselves. The vocals here almost shun the spotlight, but it’s pleasant enough. “Nice Day For A Sulk” is a charming jaunt. The Wurlitzer swirls behind Murdoch’s elongated sigh, and “Woman’s Realm” recalls If You’re Feeling Sinister in its run-on sentence lyrical delivery as well as its Peanuts-style piano riff. Classic stuff.
After Campbell’s forgettable “Family Tree”, the band ends Fold Your Hands… on an up note. “There’s Too Much Love” is a clap-along pop delight. Murdoch’s pristine voice carries itself beautifully above a lush arrangement. Fold Your Hands… will only add fuel to the fire that Belle And Sebastian is the unwitting savior of estranged outcasts everywhere, but held against the band’s own catalogue this album is merely another baby step in self-effacing, precious folk-pop, falling just below …Sinister and well above …Arab Strap. Compared to the rest of the music world, however, it should achieve a formidable ranking.