Classic Revisited: If You’re Feeling Sinister

belleandsebastian-ifyourefeelingsinisterOne of the weird things about entering your fourth decade on earth is that you’re finally at the point where you can say “That was a long time ago. I was a different person back then.” I suppose you can say that when you’re in college, but literally everyone in the vicinity will make fun of you. The fact is, my musical education (still ongoing) has been seriously happening for about 22 years now, and I finally feel that I am getting wise enough to have the benefit of perspective. To put it another way, my love affair with music is old enough to walk into a bar and buy a drink (but it’s probably going to be something sweet, since my love affair with music hasn’t acquired a taste for hard booze yet).

Last time I visited my parents in Ohio, I found a giant CD binder with hundreds of (mostly burned) CDs in it. That sentence will mean absolutely nothing in a few short years. If I were to put a time stamp on it, I would say that the vast majority of these CDs were burned between the years 2002-2005, when I was 17-20 years old. Some of these old worn titles provoke nostalgia (remember the Beta Band? remember N.E.R.D?), while some cause the bile to rise in my throat (at some point I voluntarily burned John Mayer’s Room for Squares for a purpose other than torturing suspected enemy insurgents).

No, some of these albums don’t hold up well. But then, others take on rich new meaning once you’re a little older, drunker and fatter.

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Sometimes, you’ll dust off an old chestnut and the intervening years simply melt away. I don’t feel like a teenager again, (thank God), but in revisiting a classic album, I”m able to capture a bit of the wonder that only comes with the fresh new experiences of youth.

It’s been a long time since I had the patience for anything as low key as Belle and Sebastian.

For the uninitiated, Belle and Sebastian is a sort of chamber pop band, heavily influenced by the precious proto-twee of Donovan and the melancholy of the Smiths. They’ve been active since the mid-90’s, but arguably released their most important work during the first half of their career. Singer Stuart Murdoch is definitely cut from the Byronic hero cloth, a man almost too sensitive for his own good, but the group has managed to crank out some high quality pop music while undergoing various lineup changes.

A great place to start, and my revisited classic, is 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister.  Despite the jaunty tempos, crystal-clear production, and baroque instrumentation, this record is loaded with darkness and pathos. Take, for instance, a song like “Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying.” The shimmery guitar and muttered vocals hide a layered view of the trappings and isolation of moderate fame. “Me and the Major” dissects class struggle and generational divides in just a few short minutes. Somewhere, Morrissey’s ghost is smiling, and he’s not even dead.

There are some who dismiss Belle and Sebastian as “sad bastard music.” I’m not even going to argue with that. Though some of the tracks are in major keys and keep things moving, there’s a lot of moping going on. Being ill-adjusted and awkward isn’t a glove that necessarily fits me today, but I certainly remember an acne-ridden 16-year old who really needed the weirdos in Belle and Sebastian.

Just kidding. I’m an adult now, and I’m no less ill-adjusted and awkward. At least the acne thing cleared up, though.

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