Out this Tuesday is Belle & Sebastian’s “Come on Sister” 12” on Matador, i.e. their 18th single. I will admit that, despite pretentious critical praise, I’m not the biggest fan of B&S’s latest LP (Belle and Sebastian Write About Love). It’s not that I think I’m going to get any cred for disliking their newer work, it just doesn’t send me. However, I still maintain that Stuart Murdoch and his band of mild-mannered misfits have the most extensively impressive catalogue of any band of all-time. So to celebrate the release, I’ve compiled a list of B&S’s 18 best tracks. I hope that my list isn’t super duper obvious. I certainly included some latter-era tunes and even a handful of singles and fan-favorites (hopefully that should help justify a high-ranking C-side). I also realize that a couple early albums “rule the school” to some extent and that their most critically acclaimed album is entirely absent. Anyway, without further delay, I present you with the eighteen brightest shining moments of likely history’s greatest band.
*Asterisks denote that this song was written and recorded after Belle/Isobel departed the group, thus making it not a real Belle & Sebastian song, yet that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be lovely.
18. “Piazza, New York Catcher”*
Even a Phillies fan can’t deny the ambiguous charm of this love song to a former Met. Never has the sentiment of being “Twee as Fuck” been more apparent than in this number, whose sweetness is potentially its most offensive quality.
17. “Funny Little Frog”*
I’m pretty sure I have the world record number of funny little frogs. Recently, they’ve tended to be dainty singer/songwriters. I’ll maybe tell them all about it, someday.
16. “If You’re Feeling Sinister”
Personally, I would love to find a girl that “Was into S&M and bible studies.” And if she read Kafka too… well, that’s just the icing on the cake.
15. “Another Sunny Day”*
Possibly the warmest and most enthralling romp about love they’ve written… concluding with the outcome of “true love”… literally. I think I may have the bronze medal for number of “Ghost figures of past, present, future haunting the heart.”
14. “Judy and the Dream of Horses”
The climax of this song reminds me of the last song in a musical “When it goes really big and the camera goes like out the roof.”
13. “Don’t Leave the Light on Baby”
Morrissey’s genius lies in the fact that he is able to turn slapstick follies into gospel. The genius of B&S is that they’re able to translate sorrow into what-could-be children’s lullabies. I’m not sure that there’s any better example than this.
12 “I’m a Cuckoo”*
When I first heard that B&S were going to be channeling Thin Lizzy on their next release it was a bit like being told that, starting tomorrow, air would cost a dollar per minute. However, it turned out to be more brilliant than my wildest dreams could have ever imagined (I mean, The Slits did manage to turn “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” into an active volcano of punk eroticism, so I guess anything is possible.) This is also likely the most sugar-coated middle finger Stuart ever gave to Isobel.
11. “The Model”
This was my “First” favorite B&S song. For my “Intro to Visual Design” class freshman year as an undergrad. I made a poster of a blindfolded Dita Von Teese obstructed by the phrase:
…If you think you see with just your eyes you’re mad
‘Cause Lisa learned a lot from putting on a blindfold
When she knew she had been bad
She met another blind kid at a fancy dress
It was the best sex she ever had.
That poster has hung in my apt. ever since and I regularly use this passage to eloquently emphasize to students of my own the tragedy that the society in which we live has reduced sex to something experienced primarily through sight.
10. “If You Find Yourself Caught in Love”*
The most “righteous” moment of my life was singing this live, from the 9:30 Club, with Stuart Murdoch on NPR. If only the audio was still available online, maybe my students wouldn’t be so quick to call me “religiously intolerant” in their evaluations.
9. “The State I Am In”
I was once in the car with a Goth friend of mine and when this song came on, he said, “Oh, this is the song from the blowjob scene in Storytelling.” My heart shattered.
8. “A Century of Fakers”
In my most romantically optimistic moments I would like to think that simply “Everybody’s trying to make us, another century of fakers,” however, I’m sorry to say, Stuart, I think we just might be.
7. “Mary Jo”
B&S also have a knack for creating some of the most lovably huggable anti-heroes of pop culture history. I think Mary Jo might be my favorite.
6. “Marx and Engels”
I’m not entirely sure that you’re aware of this (and I’m certainly not absolving myself of guilt), but B&S’s most tongue-in-cheek and least sincere song is actually laughing at the hypocrisy of snobby, microbrew-drinking, Trader-Joe’s-shopping, Pitchfork-reading hipsters preaching the work of Karl and Friedrich.
5. “She’s Losing It”
From the first moment of waking life I knew I was “losing it.” Thank you, once again, Stuart, for reassuring me that I’m in good company.
4. “The Chalet Lines”
THE saddest song ever written. PERIOD… including songs written by Morrissey.
3. “I’m Waking Up To Us”
The greatest break-up song of all-time. Could you imagine telling your first true love to go fuck herself while she stands beside you, banging a tambourine and singing backing vocals?
2. “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying”
Seeing Stuart and company perform this in front of a crowd of 8,000 is the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to “faith.”
If I had the artistic ability to make “Life-sized models of The Velvet Underground in clay,” the likeness of John and Lou would likely haunt my parents’ foyer to this day.