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  Dear Catastrophe Waitress  
  Belle & Sebastien  
  Rough Trade  
Release Date:
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Dear Catastrophe Waitress is a LP for which I have waited over three years, so it has a lot to live up to. Let me say right off that Belle & Sebastian is one of my top five favorite bands of all time, and I have listened to their recordings religiously for years. The band's last few releases (two EPs, a film soundtrack, and the 2000 LP Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant) have been satisfactory, but they didn't quite live up to the extraordinarily high quality of the earlier LPs, The Boy With the Arab Strap and If You're Feeling Sinister. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to come into possession of an advance copy of the new LP. Now that I've had proper time to fully digest it, I am prepared to make a judgment.

I've always felt that any of Belle & Sebastian's recordings could easily be used as a soundtrack to a Wes Anderson film. Dear Catastrophe Waitress maintains that feeling, but also adds to it. The band appears to be branching out from the 70's folk-inspired direction of their previous LPs, and opting instead to further explore the late 60's mod/lounge sound of their 2001 EP, Legal Man. I'm perfectly OK with this, because it honestly feels very natural on b>Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Also, I will never criticize a group for allowing their music to grow and change from album to album, so long as the changes are not being made merely to sell more records.

The LP opens with four tracks that are quintessentially Belle & Sebastian: folksy melodies, great vocal harmonies, and lyrics that can't be beaten. The first track, Step Into My Office Baby, has all of those characteristics and also a bit of the mod/lounge sound that I mentioned before. A song about relationship/office politics, this track has some beautifully executed changes in tempo and progression. This is a very strong first track. Track two is the title track, and is also (currently) my favorite on this record. Again there is the lyrical brilliance that I've come to expect from singer Stuart Murdoch, some eclectic horn sounds, and, most importantly, the wonderfully placed string section. Having worked in a restaurant for years while writing my own music and going to college, I can really relate to this song's story of breaking out of mediocrity and triumphing over those who have doubted you.

Track three has (dare I say it?) a bit of an Abba or BeeGees influence with even a splash of Motown. If She Wants Me is full of wonderful falsetto vocals placed over some jangly guitar and a borderline-disco beat. It may sound ridiculous, but it's really quite good. Finally, track four, Piazza, New York Catcher is (you guessed it) indeed about New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza. This short acoustic tune is one of the finest on the record. From what I can decipher since there is no lyric sheet, the lyrics tell a story of the duality of trying to live a normal life as a professional athlete. There are also a few allusions to the rumors regarding Piazza's sexuality.

Tracks five, six, and seven are unfortunately what most would consider to be album-filler. These tracks, while not horrible, just aren't too impressive. They are also dominated by the lead vocals of some other band members who, while competent singers, just don't have the unique tone or lyrical quality that Murdoch has. Maybe I'll warm to these over time. While the remainder of the album is satisfactory, the only other stand-out track is the final one, Stay Loose. This track is a definite departure from the sound on the rest of the record, having an almost dub-reggae feel. The vocal melody and execution of the verses has a late 1970's John Lennon-ish sound, with a retro coil reverb effect. When the chorus comes, the song switches gears and is very reminiscent of early Elvis Costello. The transitions between these parts is abrupt, but not unsettlingly so. This is a great way to end the record as it leaves the listener wondering what the next Belle & Sebastian LP will sound like.

I would not say that Dear Catastrophe Waitress is not a strong album; I think it is. I will say, however, that what makes this album seem weaker than the previous ones is overall playability. I can put on If You're Feeling Sinister or The Boy With the Arab Strap and listen to them straight through without skipping a single track. That is not so with Dear Catastrophe Waitess. Instead, I find myself skipping past four or five out of the thirteen tracks. This LP is not the masterpiece that I had been dreaming of, but it is definitely worth hearing for fans of the band. Here's hoping the next one leaves out some of the filler....

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