By the time Jackson takes over lead vocals on “To Be Myself Completely,” name-checking influences is already beside the point. Sure, there are pleasant hints of the Smiths, and some solid Stonesy riffing here and there, and it’s obvious that this once shambles of a band are intoxicated by their growing mastery of pop in all its various permutations. But everything is so infectious that it seems rude to pick apart each tune in search of its source. Besides, The Life Pursuit is every bit as much pure Belle and Sebastian as If You’re Feeling Sinister or The Boy With the Arab Strap (Matador, 1998). Murdoch’s story songs remain the centerpiece, populated with the usual assortment of odd characters like the graveyard-loving “Sukie” and peppered with tantalizing bits of self-revelation. “I’m the singer, I’m the singer in the band/You’re the loser, I won’t dismiss you out of hand/Cos you’ve got a beautiful face/It will take you places” is the opening verse of “Dress Up in You.” Yet the rest of the band all have roles to play: Martin’s vocals and Cooke’s trumpet become key in the same song.
Belle and Sebastian may have begun as a fairy tale imagined by Murdoch and written as prescient, magical-realist short story in the liner notes to their 1996 debut, Tigermilk. Belle became Isobel Campbell, the cellist/singer who left in 2002, by which time Murdoch’s first foil, Stuart David, had already gone off to do his own thing with Looper. It would have been pure folly to try to replace either. Instead, Murdoch moved on. And the myth of the band who would realize the vision the fictional Sebastian had for his songs became a reality. Murdoch and his cohort may be lost to the indie underground who embraced them so warmly a decade ago. But on The Life Pursuit they sound like a band who’ve found themselves. And that’s been the point all along.
Belle and Sebastian | Avalon, 15 Lansdowne St, Boston | Feb 27 + 28 | 617.931.2000
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