Belle and Sebastian Sound Quintessentially Like Themselves on 'A Bit of Previous'

BY Alex HudsonPublished May 3, 2022

With an overtly backwards-gazing title like A Bit of Previous, it shouldn't be any surprise that Scottish indie pop vets Belle and Sebastian sound best when revisiting past glories. The band's latest album — which is somewhere between their ninth and their twelfth, depending on if you count soundtracks and EP trilogies — is a product of the pandemic, as lockdowns meant that the group had to abandon plans to record in California. They ended up self-producing in Glasgow, recording at home for the first time in over 20 years, and perhaps that's why it sounds so comfortable and cozy.

Opener "Young and Stupid" is perfectly un-showy, its mid-tempo acoustic bounce providing the backdrop for a gorgeously wimpy violin and a spoken word outro. "Now we're old with creaking bones / Some with partners, some alone / Some with kids and some with dogs / Getting through the nightly slog," leader Stuart Murdoch tenderly coos, bringing a sense of wizened maturity to B&S's classic wistfulness. It's a pleasure to hear Murdoch bring the sensitive melancholy of his early years into a new stage of life.

Standout single "Unnecessary Drama" dirties up the sound with a garage-y electric stomp, guitarist Stevie Jackson's wailing harmonica bringing to mind the band's seminal "Me and the Major." The sleepy "If They're Shooting at You" and swinging "Come on Home" recall the warm AM soul of 2006's The Life Pursuit. The same can be said of closer "Working Boy in New York City," although that track's gorgeous arrangement of flute and pillowy harmonies is somewhat marred by glitchy pitch correction making it sound like Murdoch's voice is shorting out. (Who listens to Belle and Sebastian in want of perfect pitch?)

The record encompasses some of the best songs B&S have written in years, "Unnecessary Drama" being a shoo-in for a best-of comp. Elsewhere, A Bit of Previous offers a bit of inconsistency — particularly when the band lean too heavily on cold synth arpeggiators with the Sarah Martin-sung "Reclaim the Night" or Eurodance-flavoured "Prophets on Hold," which simply aren't catchy enough to work as proper synthpop (although the latter does nicely evoke Tigermilk's "Electronic Renaissance" by sitting in the middle of the album and not remotely fitting). Murdoch's voice sounds striking on the ballad "Do It for Your County," but it, along with Jackson's country ballad "Deathbed of My Dreams," are too slow and plodding to hold up against the album's better tracks.

But even these weaker cuts don't detract too much from the humble sweetness of A Bit of Previous. Belle and Sebastian aren't making a grand statement here; rather, more than seven years on from their last proper LP (2015's Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance), B&S are honing in on some of their signature styles and making an album that sounds quintessentially like themselves.

Latest Coverage