The impressive thing about Belle and Sebastian has always been their ability to nail the vintage sound and style of the 60’s and 70’s in their own unique, playful and very voguish way. They evoke the feeling of skipping through a long green field right onto the set of a Wes Anderson film; another decade rich with poetic imagery, dynamic musical sound and hooks that are some of the catchiest around.
This time, however, they exchange the flowery Village folk style of say, Simon & Garfunkel, for a retrofitted version of Peter Bjorn and John. Only dancier.
The album opener, “Nobody’s Empire” jumps off with a kick drum beat and synthesizer, but then drops right into a long, catchy verse that says nothing so much as ‘Oh yeah, this is still Belle and Sebastian.’ “Allie” comes in rocking as the number two track and both tracks dabble in themes of war and peace, alluding to the album’s title.
Then by third track, “The Party Line” you’ve straight up time-warped to waiting at the bar in a European lounge stomping your foot and clapping to a catchy little number that sounds like it could be a dance remix of the Belle and Sebastian, themselves. The next song “Power of Three” kicks right in with probably the most catchy synth bit of the whole record and then the band gets back to more of their classic style, slowing it down with a melancholic and introspective narrative involving several characters and vivid lyrical imagery in “The Cat and The Cream.”
The album mostly alternates like that, going back and forth between catchy, lounge-style dance numbers and vintage B & S retro classics. “Ever Had A Little Faith?” could fit seamlessly on any one of their first few albums. “Play For Today” is almost mercilessly catchy, like a new take on the wild pop rhythms of Graceland.
Girls in Peacetime is unlike anything the band has released before and I admire the band for trying something different but, while the synthesizer parts can be catchy as hell, they’re not quite as memorable as the bubble-gum pop choruses that were such a unique and welcome hallmark of the band’s earlier releases. The more I listen to this album, the more I think of what John Cusack said in High Fidelity (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Is it their best record? No, probably not. But is it the best for what? For at home listening alone, or if you’re out at the club?” For Girls in Peactime, it’s the latter.