Monday, September 23, 2013

Belle & Sebastian - Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant

Belle & Sebastian - Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant
by Melanie Baskins

Who would have thought a band as ultimately inoffensive and pleasant as Belle and Sebastian could have such a tempestuous relationship with fans? Their first album Tigermilk made them unlikely heroes to a generation of Lisas and Judys, and their second album, 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister, perfected their sound and leader Stuart Murdoch’s songwriting, consolidating the spiky experiments of their then little-heard debut, with a more full-bodied, yet streamlined approach. Following the overly familiar and more tepidly received The Boy with the Arab Strap, Stuart and Co. knew that moving forward was essential to staying vital, and what resulted was what most B&S disciples consider the nadir of the band’s first stage, the clumsily titled Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant. It’s the album where the band ran its previous ideas into the ground, but it’s also a fucked up sort of masterwork, a fuck-up greatest hits, if you will. It features the band’s best ideas on an epic scale and some interesting new ideas they thankfully thought to capitalize on in the second phase of Belle and Sebastian’s career.

In interviews, band members have stated that the tracks on the album were picked out of a group of songs based on how they sounded together, but for the most part, Fold lacks lyrical and sonic cohesion. This, despite the fact that their first three albums held together only through similar thematic concerns, doesn’t prickle my ears besides the inclusion of the “pastoral” “Beyond the Sunrise” and the “Stars of Track and Field”-on-steroids opener “I Fought in a War.” But this was also the period of the band at their most democratic, choosing to include songs written by Stevie Jackson, Isobel Campbell, and Stuart David as well as Murdoch’s usuals in the collection. The collaborative effort provides some interesting contrasts and textures not seen before on a B&S record. Campbell’s “Family Tree” has its defiant female narrator declaring “If you’re looking at me to start having babies/ than you can wish because I’m not here to fool around.” The next song, Murdoch-penned closer “There’s Too Much Love” provides the fearsome retort that “I’m honest, brutal and afraid of you.” “There’s Too Much Love”’s lyrics, most particularly the line “I can’t hide my feelings from you now/ there’s too much love to go around these days,” when compared with “Family Tree,” make up an almost he-said/she-said whole documenting both Murdoch and Campbell’s disintegrating relationship as well as the internal strife of the band reaching a breaking point. This is entirely subjective; “Family Tree” was written by Murdoch before the band was fully formed, but the decision to put these tracks back to back provides a small hint that they knew what they were doing when they sequenced the album.

Even when listening to Belle and Sebastian’s worst songs, you never feel sorry, and you’re never embarrassed for the band. This is the album’s saving grace: “Women’s Realm” blatantly rips the hand claps and stuttering piano of “The Boy with the Arab Strap,” but you can’t blame these guys—it was then and remains a great fucking idea for a song (the best on its respective album, matter of fact). And while “Nice Day for a Sulk” is a pleasant if self-parodying throwaway, there are plenty of great songs here. The oft-derided “Beyond the Sunrise” features an epic narrative nicely contrasting Stevie Jackson’s uncharacteristic baritone with Isobel’s paper-thin whisper and could logically take place in the aftermath of the equally brooding “I Fought in a War.” The bubblegum pop of Jackson’s “The Wrong Girl” puts the lie to the theory that Trevor Horn was their savior on Dear Catastrophe Waitress (an album that I am at a loss to defend like this one). Horn may have helped the band take a large step toward pop, but they were headed in that direction anyway. Fold, however, has the distinct flavor of a transitional album: half of its songs are familiar and another half is uncomfortably unfamiliar, yet it’s masterful at demonstrating what they’re best at as well as what they would become best at on 2006’s The Life Pursuit. The consolidation of their strengths, new ideas, and that album cover make it a worthier and more essential entry in Belle and Sebastian’s catalogue than sees its due.

Not much is known about Melanie Baskins other than she's a fan of the blog, claims to be "almost 19," and sent us this Belle & Sebastian piece!



Anonymous Melanie Baskins said...

While I am on the self-promotion trip, I am a beginning music blogger meself, my blog is titled under the alias Catalina Ernshaw (Spot the Mum and Wuthering Heights references). I update with a new review once a month of old favorites and new albums.

June 20, 2008 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

This might be my favourite B&S album, actually, although I leave out "Beyond the Sunrise" on the iPod. And I hate The Life Pursuit. Great job, Melanie!

June 21, 2008 at 10:21 AM  
Blogger kiss out the jams said...

Word about Life Pursuit, Ian, with the exception of "Funny Little Frog."

I'm surprised neither one of you mentioned "The Model"!

June 21, 2008 at 10:46 AM  
Anonymous melanie baskins said...

It's funny because I absolutely despise DCW but I love The Life Pursuit even though both are in the same vein of bubblegum pop- maybe that's Trevor Horn's fault.

I do love The Model with the exception of Stuart's lame attempts at being naughty- the lines about the girl who shows her chest and Lisa and the blind boy.

June 21, 2008 at 3:50 PM  

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