Song of the Day #2,401: ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’ – Belle & Sebastian

b-s_girls-in-peacetime_packshot-1When R.E.M.’s 1998 album Up, their first without drummer Bill Berry, was met with mixed reviews, Michael Stipe said this in an interview: “If this record dropped out of the sky by a three-piece band that nobody had heard of, people would be in the street shouting at the top of their lungs, naked, about it.”

He was being overly defensive, but I could see his point. Established bands — especially great ones — are always measured against their own legacy, their finest moments.

And beyond that, even excellent new work from a band that has been around for awhile won’t be met with the same enthusiasm or interest as the hot new thing. That phenomenon certainly isn’t unique to music.

I remembered Stipe’s quote when listening to Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, the latest album by Scottish indie stalwarts Belle & Sebastian. After weeding through the songs and albums that received critical acclaim on the Village Voice poll, I can’t help but think that if this was a debut album, it would be topping this year’s versions of those lists.

But I bet this album will be largely forgotten by critics a year from now. And that’s a shame, because it’s a stellar addition to the band’s already formidable discography.

Fitting given the title, this could be called Belle & Sebastian’s dance album. It contains more synths than strings, and more attention is paid to the rhythm section than the horn section. A couple of tracks are a slight remix away from club-ready.

But in typical B&S fashion, even those tracks are off-kilter and delicate. And the rest of the album hews pretty close to the tried and true formula they’ve perfected over nearly two decades. The production is more assured, the tempos a little faster, but there’s no mistaking the responsible party.

Two tracks here are early candidates for next year’s list of best songs. Opening track ‘Nobody’s Empire’ is a stirring look at lead singer/songwriter Stuart Murdoch’s years-long struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (which might explain his sleepy vocals on those early discs). It’s the most personal song he’s ever recorded, and it’s a great one.

Even better is ‘Play For Today,’ a 7 1/2-minute epic on which Murdoch trades vocals with Dee Dee Penny over a surreal mixture of lovely sounds I’d alternately describe as Caribbean, African and new wave. The pair deliver two of the best vocal performances I’ve heard on a Belle & Sebastian record.

Today’s SOTD, ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?,’ was written by Murdoch before he even formed the band, under the heavy influence of The Velvet Underground. The band recorded it shortly after Lou Reed’s death.

With your headphones on
Through the drizzled pane
Of a wet slate roof
Sun will turn to rain
Why are you the one?
Couldn’t take the pain
Something good will happen, wait and see
Something good will happen, wait and see

Do you spend your day
Second guessing fate?
Looking for a way
To live so divine
Drop your sad pretense
You’ll be doing fine
You will flourish like a rose in June
You will flourish like a rose in June

Ever had a little faith?
Ever had a little faith?

Morning came
The hope rose up in your heart, girl
You felt ashamed
When morning came
Roll away the stone of doubt, girl
If you’re calm, then listen out for
The quiet voice, the sign from the window
Passion beating on your brow
You wish it were, you wish it was now
Pass the sound of driving traffic
Pass a madman’s drunken attic
You climb the stair
It’s dark and it’s drafty
The smell of incense drawing you
Sky of light imploring you to

Then she ran from street to street
Looked up and down
She must have missed him
If she could only find him
She would throw her arms around and kiss him
Tenderly, she would give herself on bended knee
Never thinking if it’s wrong or right
Hurry sister, there’s a little light
Ever had a little faith?
Ever had a little faith?

Who can you trust?
Trust a little man
Whispers in the trees
And the river can
Speak the calming verse
From the age of brave

Something good will come from no -o-thing
Something good will come from no -o-thing

Ever had a little faith?
Ever had a little faith?

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #2,401: ‘Ever Had a Little Faith?’ – Belle & Sebastian

  1. Dana says:

    I don’t think B&S has ever been under the critics’ or public’s microscope in the same way as REM to draw the comparison you are making here. Regardless, it’s good to know that the band continues to stay on your radar screen so that you can highlight their work on your blog and your list.

  2. Clay says:

    I agree about the public but disagree about critics. The band has been a critics’ darling since its inception, but far less so in recent years. My point is just that this exact album, under the banner of a new artist, would be receiving lavish critical praise, as opposed to the quiet reception it’s received.

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