Belle and Sebastian
Our Favourite Party Songs
(Lost Dogs 002)

Having been burned by a seriously bad Belle and Sebastian show back in '98 or so, I have never bothered much with the various boots that circulate. This one (recorded in Ultrecht, Holland, 31 March 2004) was foisted upon me recently, and I'm glad I gave it a shot, because it shows that B&S have finally gotten their shit together.

Gone are the long let's-all-switch-instruments pauses between songs, elitist obscurity-obsessed setlists, painfully shy stage presence, and whisper-soft/off-key backing vocals. Nowadays the band sounds like they're actually a band, not just a bunch of bookworms teaching themselves to play as they go along. The current lineup is tight, accomplished, and energetic, and it certainly doesn't hurt that Stuart Murdoch seems to have moved beyond his extraordinarily arch career-suicide phase. His songs are more consistent these days, and his stage presence is far more ingratiating/less absurdly private.

Our Favourite Party Songs sounds like a soundboard, or perhaps excellent audience recording, but in any event, it's a keeper, thanks mostly to the splendid tracklist, which includes several songs from Dear Catastrophe Waitress, which they pull off surprisingly well (I'd assumed the polish of that record was entirely attributable to the disciplined hand of producer Trevor Horn). "Wrapped Up in Books" is just wonderful here, as are a slightly ramshackle "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love" and "Stay Loose." "I'm a Cuckoo" is even more fun live. And most of the stage banter is the type of charming only B&S can do.

In fact, there's really nothing to gripe about, song-wise or performance wise (despite the occasionally goopy overachieving harmonies, and perhaps the time-to-go-grab-another-drink blandness of "Wrong Girl"). The older songs are well-selected and increasingly sound like "classics." Sure, there are songs I'd love to have been included, as this was so clearly an "on" show, but I can't complain … the redemption of Belle and Sebastian itself is enough to be grateful for, much less a live boot that indicates we can trust them again.

Tracklist: Passion Fruit · Expectations · Step Into My Office, Baby · Wrapped Up in Books · The Model · I'm Waking Up to Us · You Made Me Forget My Dreams · You Don't Send Me · You're Just a Baby · Dog on Wheels · Slow Graffiti · I'm a Cuckoo · If You Find Yourself Caught in Love · Stay Loose · Wrong Girl · Dirty Dream No. 2 · Sleep the Clock Around

Review by Baby Face Oldman