Belle & Sebastian
I'm a Cuckoo (Rough Trade 83234)
Belle & Sebastian EPs used to be cherished standalones as essential for fans as the group's full albums, a la The Smiths or Cocteau Twins. The time has finally come, though, where they've become "CD-singles" as opposed to pure EPs instead of three or four new songs, what you get is an album track, a couple of clearly second-tier b-sides, and a video.
I'm a Cuckoo is a step up from Step Into My Office Baby (the previous single culled from Dear Catastrophe Waitress, which I am coming to see as not just a welcome comeback, but in fact the band's best album). It includes the Thin Lizzy-inspired title track, which rewrites "The Boys Are Back In Town" as only Stuart Murdoch could, plus, yes, the requisite second-tier b-sides and a video.
Of note, though, is B&S's first-ever remix, of "Cuckoo" by the deliriously great Avalanches, whose Since I Left You is one of this decade's most original and perfect albums. As expected, they defy all expectations to offer not a dancey mashed-up mix of the song with loads of humorous samples, but rather a Senegalese remake of the song retaining only Stuart's lead vocal. It's an undeniable letdown in the same way that a great shaggy-dog joke is that is, it's satisfying even though it leaves you unfulfilled. A real curveball, and I for one appreciate that.
The b-sides are better than the ones on Step Into My Office, including the easy-listening country of Trevor Horn-produced "(I Believe In) Travellin' Light," which almost made the album, but makes much more sense as a b-side, since it's subtle and needs the intimacy of a fan-targeted release. Even better is the seven-minute country-rock "Stop, Look, and Listen," which sounds very much like a Mike Nesmith track off a '68 Monkees record, then turns into a spy theme for an extended outro. It's too long, but quite good.
The video is hilarious, with Stuart as a runner torn between the demands of his coach and those of his ladyfriends. At once absolutely sarcastic and genuinely sweet, it's precisely the sort of thing they should have done all along, instead of hiding behind that mask of gun-shy privacy that squashed them for such a long time. Ideally, this video will be spun off into a BBC sitcom, which is possibly Stuart Murdoch's ideal setting.
Review by La Fée