Glaswegian based veterans Belle and Sebastian release a compilation album of their separately issued 3 EP’s, How To Solve Our Human Problems Part 1, 2 and 3. Having released 9 studio albums over the last two decades, the well-established band have gone back to their roots, embracing the much revered EP format for their recent efforts.
There is a total of 15 songs presented here with each EP originally having 5 songs each. Masters of melancholy themed, yet upliftingly joyous pop, this collection does much to bolster that same work ethic that they have traded on since the mid 1990’s.
Part 1 begins with the Parisian flavored Sweet Dew Lee, a spacious guitar driven slice of pop, lyrically heavy on yearning yet optimistically hopeful. Its melody is infectious as singers Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson sing of wishfully meeting a muse, “in another dimension, in a parallel world” with the song culminating into a wash of acid retro synth.
The next track is a real stand out for me, the sublime We Were Beautiful. Incredibly cinematic in its execution, with crushed beats resembling Kid A period Radiohead, wide cathedral swelling synths, dark basslines, pedal steel guitar and a semi spoken vocal which leads into a frantic chorus section. It’s pretty fantastic.
Fickle Season sees my fellow East Lancastrian Sarah Martin delivering an enchanting vocal over a plush yet stripped arrangement.
The Girl Doesn’t Get It is again a highlight for me, it’s a lost 80’s synth-wave classic whose chorus instrumentation bears much passing resemblance to Kavinsky’s genre defining Night Call from the film Drive. Its effortlessly happy, snappy pop and I can’t stop playing it.
Part 1 wraps up with the mostly instrumental lounging coda, Everything Is Now which ties everything up nicely, showcasing the multi-instrumentation talents within the band.
Part 2 kicks off with the deep thumping beats of Show Me The Sun which sees both vocalists weaving between lead duties over an ambitious piece of music. With its guitar tone reminiscent of Edwyn Collins standout single A Girl Like You, it’s another great tune.
The Motown shimmer of The Same Star sees Sarah Martin take the lead again delivering a classic Belle and Sebastian radio friendly sound. We then lead into the albums anchor song I’ll Be Your Pilot which has such a sweet melancholy chorus that begs for you to grab you best friend and singalong. Again, such a fine piece of writing and delivery.
Cornflakes starts off with a slightly off-kilter, bit-crushed drum machine repetition. It then expands into a dreamy psychedelic haze with the vocals occasionally sounding like our own Neil Finn. Its lyrics romancing the beauty of Glasgow City…..(I’m sure it’s there, I just never found it myself!).
Bringing the tone down and finalizing Part 2 is A Plague On Other Boys with fine lyrics recalling schoolboy failure, “growing, I’m a mess, I’m defeated. My grade point average went to hell”.
Poor Boy gives a much-needed adrenalin boost to proceedings with its Chic inspired funked-out bassline. Snappy beats and high registered, polished vocals will lead the hipsters onto the dancefloor with this discotheque homage.
Everything Is Now gets the reprise treatment next with the more vocally complete Everything Is Now (Part Two). Slight changes on the instrumentation here, my own preference being the earlier version.
A couple of filler’s follow Two Many Tears and the Simon and Garfunkel styled musings of There Is An Everlasting Song.
The collection then ends with the upbeat Best Friend with heavy leanings on the intro section of Dion’s Runaround Sue and some of the 1960’s Red Bird Label releases.
This collection is a great showcase of how versatile Belle and Sebastian are as musicians and arrangers and their unwillingness to be genre pigeon holed. For me, if I was judging each EP separately I would personally pick Part 1 as my favorite as I find the content and treatment more interesting than the others. (I’m also pretty synth biased!). As separate releases it certainly makes a punchier statement, throwing them all together I think lessens the blow, but either way it still leaves me achy in awe of their talent.