Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress

By liz

Belle & Sebastian - Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Review by: the members of the Excellent Mailing list

I thought I'd do a little something different with this review. Perhaps I was inspired by what I think is one of the best albums of the year. Apparently it was a good thing I asked, because it appears most of the mailing list didn't share the same enthusiasm for what I thought was a surprising and brilliant return to form for the Scottish indiepoppers.

So what did they think? Read on...

It's a step in the right direction - not exactly another "...Sinister", but by no means a "Storytelling" or "Fold Your Hands...". Let's just hope they continue the trajectory.
Melissa Fehr


"I'm wondering if Belle and Sebastian were influenced by Os Mutantes (Rita Lee's first band)... becuase their (B&S) song "Step into my Office, Baby" is another version of os Mutantes' song, "Tempo No Tempo." I do love the CD. (By both groups)"
Alex Martin


"As long as you have Stuart Murdoch, you have what makes Belle and Sebastian; it can be Murdoch with 4 plumbers, and you still have Belle and Sebastian. Take Murdoch out of the mix and you are treading on very shaky ground. Yes, Ringo got some songs ( imagine battling for songs with Lennon / McCartney ), and there will always be a few "Ringo" tunes on every Belle and Sebastian record, but on "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" they disappoint (following a trend found on virtually every album - Space Boy Dream? forget it! ) instead of being fun and surprising, a la "Yellow Submarine" and "Octopus' Garden". It is all too easy to find fault, so I suggest you look to the positive side and create your own version. Just program your cd player, and you will find a spritely album that rolls along at a nice pace, has one sure-fire classic in "Lord Anthony", entertains with a few toe tappers, and there you go, that wasn't so bad after all."
John F. Monroe


"Belle & Sebastian regain some ground here after the dual (and dull) disappointments that were "Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant" and "Storytelling." Trevor Horn's bright, mostly non-obtrusive production is the first surprise, followed by a seemingly reinvigorated Stuart Murdoch. Still, as the kids say, it's not as good as their older stuff -- there's nothing here that will come close to converting the doubters."
Ross Raihala


"Despite roping in producer of the hour Trevor Horn to update their sound, "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" marks no discernable departure for everyone's favorite/least favorite [delete as appropriate] fey Scottish popsters and is a complete waste of Horn's talents. If anything, it's further proof that Stuart Murdoch could greatly benefit from a stiff drink and a swift kick in the ass. Step into MY office, baby, and let me show you a few my fist."
James Freeman


"I should preface this review with an admission. I never expected to review this record. Heck, I never expected to buy this record. See, I do not consider myself a fan of Belle & Sebastian. I have never owned--nor have I ever had a desire to own--any of their records. I heard If You're Feeling Sinister once, and I had no desire to hear more. As my opinion had been polarized many moons ago, I gave Dear Catastrophe Waitress no thought; why should I care? When it was announced that this album was to be produced by Trevor Horn, my curiosity was quickly piqued, and last week, I was asked what I thought of the album. I considered giving her my usual"I don't know and don't care" line, but my overwhelming curiosity got the better of me, and for the first time in years, I wanted to hear a Belle & Sebastian record.

It must be extremely nice to be Stuart Murdoch. Seven years of critical acclaim has certainly cemented his career, and it's safe to say that Murdoch has reached the Vegas-era Elvis stage of his career. Much like the King of Rock and Roll, to the rabid, devoted fans, Belle & Sebastian can do no wrong. They've made some disappointing records over the past year or two, yet they've survived the bad reviews with the ease and comfort of a well-established star. If Murdoch and his (apparently) ever-changing cast of Sebastians were to do nothing more than retread previous albums, nobody would really complain; after all, blind devotion thrives on the repetition of past glories. Stuart Murdoch could then rest a bit easier at night, as he would not have to worry about what kind of record he should make.

Of course, when an artist reaches that point in their career, one should worry about them. If history has taught us anything, it's that complacency kills: it kills great bands, it kills creative growth, it kills the spark that once made a great band/artist special; on rare occasions, it actually kills the artist. Of course, every band who establishes themselves in the public eye is faced with a frustrating catch-22, and it's one that must be maddening for those who have to face it. While it's true that an artist who turns their back on their fans in the name of 'creativity' is guilty of artistic self-importance, it's equally wrong for an artist to do nothing but give their fans the exact same thing over and over, in order to 'please the fans.'

On one level, it's obvious that Murdoch didn't want to mess much with the Belle & Sebastian formula, and that makes Dear Catastrophe Waitress an extremely complacent, sterile, risk-free record. Think they're not being complacent? Just listen to the chorus of the utterly revelatory "You Don't Send Me": "Listen honey, there is nothing you can say to surprise me/Listen honey there is nothing you can do to offend me anymore." Is he making some sort of cute commentary about a dull relationship, or is he looking in the mirror and commenting upon the fact that he's not going to give you, dear listener, nothing you wouldn't expect from Belle & Sebastian? Personally, I think he's telling all in song. And what excactly does it say about a band who never mentions who is in the band? Nowhere--nowhere--is a band lineup given; I am assuming that by this point, we should know who is in Belle & Sebastian. Then again, maybe Murdoch couldn't spare one line from his five-page diary entry/liner notes/waste of time. I guess such pretension is to be expected; let's not forget that we are talking about Belle & Sebastian here. ( It could be worse; he could have given us six pages of rambling, unintelligible babble, complete with even more name-dropping, and for once, I'm happy that Roddy Frame's name wasn't brought up in discussion.)

What makes this even more frustrating, though, is that I really can't believe that Trevor Horn was hired to keep up the Belle & Sebastian status quo. After all, this is the man who produced Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Art of Noise and The Buggles, so it's hard not to think that the collaboration would produce something neat. (Then again, Horn also produced Seal, Paul McCartney and taTu, so such a thing could be a mixed blessing, but let's not go there.) For this, I must give Murdoch credit; the combination of Horn and Sebastian is certainly interesting. Of course, seeing as the combination seems highly unlikely, Horn's ideas and production gimmicks are terribly obvious; Dear Catastrophe Waitress has a driving, upbeat and pseudo-happy pulse that cannot be overlooked, and at times it sounds terribly unnatural. The end result? Horn's made the premier conjurers of the ghost of Nick Drake sound painfully like a folkier, feminine-sounding version of Stereolab. Think that comparison is a half-interested music writer grasping at straws for a comparison? Imagine Laetitia Sadier and the late Mary Hansen singing "Step Into My Office, Baby," "You Don't Send Me," or "If She Wants Me," (to name but three songs as examples) and the resemblence is disturbing.

It certainly piqued my curiosity to learn that Trever Horn would be producing their album. If anything made me a bit more receptive to their new record, it's that. When I first put Dear Catastrophe Waitress in my stereo, there were many, many times I wanted to take it out and listen to something that was merely mediocre, because I wanted to listen to something better. I can't explain why, but just as I reached for the eject button, some little hook or Hornism made me stop and listen, as if some sort of subliminal message was saying "please keep listening! please keep listening!" To be fair, Horn has added some wonderful hooks; though I haven't really listened to most of the album, "Step Into My Office, Baby," "You Don't Send Me," and "I'm A Cuckoo" are certainly hook-filled numbers that will make you smile and will make you want to hit the repeat button. I can't help thinking, though, that it's Trevor Horn's magic--and his magic alone--that makes this album pleasant. Nice, even. Am I listening to Dear Catastrophe Waitress because Belle & Sebastian made a great record, or am I listening to it because Trevor Horn made it listenable? I'm gonna have to live with that one for a while.

What, then, should you take away from this record? If you're a fan, there's nothing here that will offend you. They don't want to put their career on the line; after all, you can't charge fifty bucks a ticket if nobody wants to see you. If you're not a fan, then you might like this record. You might not, though. It all depends on how you feel about self-aware Scottish pop songwriters who think they're smarter than you. Belle & Sebastian make music to appeal to college professors and their sullen teenage daughters who want to feel validated in their tastes, and their latest offering simply gives the dour, sourpuss types a reason to dance and crack a smile. (Maybe that's why they hate it so!) Dear Catastrophe Waitress hasn't made me a fan, but I haven't been utterly repulsed by it, either. It's nice, inoffensive pop music, how could I possibly be repulsed? I doubt it's something I'll listen to very much, because records by Camera Obscura and Would-Be-Goods are so much better and are much more satisfying, even though the one or two highlights are really enjoyable. Ultimately, though, Belle & Sebastian have risked nothing and, once again, have given us a new album that contains absolutely nothing new.

I'm sure Elvis would be impressed. "
Joseph K of mundane sounds.

"Against my better judgement, and not forgetting my normal hatred for all things that start with 't' and rhyme with 'whee', we may have just begrudgingly heard the album of the year. Absolutely fucking stellar."
Shane Brown


"Even though I miss Isobel's contributions, Dear Catastrophe Waitress turns out to be another satisfying Belle & Sebastian record. You have to admire their continued sense of communal craftmanship - these are well-thought songs with complex melodies and arrangements that still remain pretty accessible. If your feeling sinister, you can accuse Stuart Murdoch of re-treading lyrical ground (much falls under the heading of "whimsical") and moving the group away from their more folky roots (Trevor Horn's shiny production pretty much nudges the band towards 80s new wave and jangle-pop), but in the end, Dear Catastrophe Waitress is another triumph of craftmanship that is quite fun to listen to."
Michael F. Gill