Belle & Sebastian
This is Not a Modern Rock Song
(Jeepster 009)

Not since the days of the Cocteau Twins in the mid-80s has a band been so prolific in so short a space of time, quite against the current music business code of not giving the fans what they want. Belle & Sebastian continue their faithful fan appreciation crusade with This is Just a Modern Rock Song, another fine EP of all-new material following the release of the (crappier) full-length The Boy With the Arab Strap.

This one is a bit more like chamber-pop than the previous couple of releases, which feature more of an electrified approach. On these songs the band is augmented by horns and oboe, in addition to the usual cornucopia of instruments (guitars, organ, piano, fiddle, banjo, etc.). Some of it recalls So Good it Hurts-era Mekons (the title track in particular), and if there's a weakness to it it's Belle & Sebastian's purposeful movement toward a greater democratic ideal. Stuart Murdoch writes great songs and has an amazing voice – his bandmembers don't, charming and fragile as they may be.

Still, they produce wonderful independent music that always seems like it's about to be discovered (and ruined) by the mainstream. The band is doing all it can to ensure this doesn't happen – we can expect another EP and another full-length in '99, as well as solo albums from two members. At some point it will reach the roll-your-eyes-it's-another-Belle & Sebastian-record point, but we're enjoying the steady stream for now.

"This is Just a Modern Rock Song" clocks in at over 7 minutes (itself a fact that makes the fans cream their jeans – diehards love long songs), and is slightly more glib than the band gets, and a bit more precious ("I'm not as sad as Doestoevsky/I'm not as clever as Mark Twain") – well at least they're accurate self-assessors. Still, the melody carries the song through very well.

"I Know Where the Summer Goes" is a very slow ballad that, even as it is enjoyable, makes one wonder, "So when is Stuart going to learn some more chords?" A good song nonetheless. You don't need a thousand chords to make good pop – just ask my Pops, he gets much props.

"The Gate" is by far the lamest track here, featuring Isobel Campbell's fragile vocal – she's no Ella Fitzgerald, in fact she's no Tanya Donelly. Ah, the fans don't care – do you, fans? (Email your responses!!! Or just go outside and read Shelley under a tree.) Actually, it's competent 90s 60s folk, sort of like the Primitives performing Buck Owens (and I remind myself that in the first track, the band warned me "We're not terrific but we're competent").

"Slow Graffiti" has some great Petula Clark guitars (memo to Ibanez: new signature series, "The Petula Clark line" – flying-V only) over a pretty piano progression and Murdoch's fragile vocal (this song is also featured on the Acid House soundtrack, I believe in the same version). Overall, another worthwhile twenty minutes granted to us by our favorite Scottish pop stars, not counting the Proclaimers. No, wait, I was kidding – hey, give me another shot, I can come up with something better than that.

Review by Peelu Prawns