Belle & Sebastian – How To Solve Our Human Problems review
Those stumbling upon Best Friend – a Supremes-like tune late in this compilation of the Scottish collective’s three recent EPs – might be forgiven for thinking the band are stuck in a perpetual state of studentdom.
“Here we are just trying to be flatmates,” Sarah Martin sings of two pals trying to resist mutual attraction, “over steaming mac and cheese”. It’s more indicative, however, of their permanent state of youthful, good-willed enthusiasm, one which concedes an endearing urge to see the best in everything.
Here, that means 15 songs which embrace the sophisticated silkiness of what might, in other hands, end up flannel: the smooth, often neglected soft pop of the late-60s up to the early-80s. Listen to Same Star and you’ll find their fervour infectious: its deft, Motown-influenced arrangement – staccato guitar, soothing keys, subtle brass textures and that sweet vocal again – could have been unearthed on a charity store vinyl gem.
On Sweet Dew Lee, Stuart Murdoch’s tentative croon negotiates luxurious chord changes, interrupted briefly by space-age synth effects. Poor Boy, a duet, even puts slinky funk upfront, while I’ll Be Your Pilot boasts one of the best uses of the oboe since The Go-Betweens’ Bye Bye Pride.
Enviably innocent, may these Scots never be soiled by cynicism.