1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 419

Dear Catastrophe Waitress, by Belle and Sebastian
Suggested by Nick Hall

My memory is terrible.

It excels at some things. I recall being very good at learning lines when acting, sometimes to the annoyance of my fellow actors as I mouthed their words to them a split second before they spoke. Nowadays, however, it’s spotty at best. I’m able to faithfully dredge the archives for long-lost advertising jingles from my childhood, but unable to remember the name of the person standing in front of me who’s just told me their name. Twice.

Earlier today, I watched Pointless. One round had the subject of “Hit Singles”, with the conceit that the songs in question each contained a bird in their title, which was initialled but removed from the board. Contestants had to choose what they thought was the most obscure clue, and name the bird. The clues included “Rockin’ Robin, by The Jackson 5”, and “Fly Like An Eagle, by Seal”, which is not to be confused with “Swim Like A Seal, by The Eagles.”

One clue was “I’m A C_____, by Belle and Sebastian.”

Even though I’d listened to this album a mere one hour before, and that I’d noted that this song was my second favourite on it, I couldn’t remember the title. Initially, I plumped for “I’m a Chaffinch,” before settling on the much more bizarre “I’m a Cormorant.”

The actual song, I’m a Cuckoo, is a fine up-tempo sound, packed with upbeat jangle-pop guitar, strong yet smooth brass bursts, and thoughtful yet quirkily obtuse lyrics. It’s a wonderful example of the fare on Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and so it’s maddening I couldn’t recall the title mere moments after the final bars had faded.

This is… *checks Masterdoc*… my first foray into the music of Glasgow’s Belle and Sebastian, and going in I had no preconceptions on the direction of their sound. I did find their name rather irritating, as it conjures Disney Royalty and sounds rather pompous. However, their melodious indie-pop sound is beautiful and intricately layered, and I came away completely charmed.

There’s a sense of Beach Boys meets They Might Be Giants about Belle and Sebastian, which is entirely to their credit. There’s a summer feel to songs like Step Into My Office Baby and Asleep On A Sunbeam, but the brightness on offer is not confined there. Ever single song raises a warm smile, from the straight guitarwork on Piazza, New York Catcher to the wonderfully cascading vocals on my standout If She Wants Me. The oddball slant is also refreshing, most prominent in the title track Dear Catastrophe Waitress and the closer Stay Loose.

I loved every second of this, and was planning on awarding it a nine… but I settled on 8/10, as there’s something amiss here, something that’s perhaps a little too constructed and clinical about the songs, It’s nothing strictly detrimental, although it does make me feel somewhat uneasy, frayed around the edges of my enjoyment.

Nevertheless, 8/10 is a fine score, and I’m excited to sample more from the band once my listening schedule allows. If I can remember, obviously.

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