Wednesday, January 2, 2008

under rated: The Boy with the Arab Strap

"Say Cheerio to Books Now/ The Only Thing to Read are Faces"

There aren't many things I can remember from when I was 14. Buying
Belle & Sebastian's The Boy with the Arab Strap is one of them. The band, formed by Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David while at Stow College in Glasgow, Scotland, had already released two beloved records across the pond on Jeepster Records. Matador had already re-issued the wickedly kick ass If You're Feeling Sinister, but The Boy with the Arab Strap was the first time my insanely young ears heard the groups ravishing harmonies and melancholic melodies. I remember this because the first time I listened to the record was on a disc man during the famed Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show starring the world renowned Rockettes. If you'd heard "Ease Your Feet in the Sea" while a hundred leggy women in sequined leotards did the can-can you'd probably remember too. Needless to say I didn't become a lifelong fan of the Rockettes that night, but I did start a ten year love affair with the best thing to come from Scotland since tartan and single malt Scotch Whiskey.

Not everyone felt the same way about The Boy with the Arab Strap. In fact, most wrote it off as another case of a band's third record being mediocre at best. Those loons at Pitchfork even went as far as saying the album was a parody of itself and compared it to the man juice that hangs from Ben Stiller's ear in There's Something About Mary. Then they went and gave it a 0.8.

While the record is by no means a masterpiece in the sense that If You're Feeling Sinister is, it is an artistic statement more concerned with experimental growth than regurgitating the same old hooks and harmonies that catapulted them to precious indie stardom in 1996. The album, which is divided into two sides even on CD, is centered by the spacey spoken word of "A Space Boy Dream", which is easily the worst song on the record. But that's ok, it's song number 7 on a record where songs 1 through 6 are charming and hummable and with fun little poetics like "Soberly without regret/ I make another sandwich." For some reason when Stuart Murdoch coo's those words I feel as if I'm listening to Kerouac, or one of his absurdist beat cronies. "A Summer Wasting" has justified every lackluster summer evening I've spent drinking and playing and waiting for the sun to rise before going to sleep, while "Seymour Stein" plays like a Dear John letter to the famous record exec, an apology for missing a dinner meeting ("I heard dinner went well/ You liked Chris' jacket/It reminded you of Johnny/Before he went electronic"). "TBWTAS" contains the best recorder solo in recorded history. Oh yeah, and an ass load of hand claps to keep you happy even when the songs are oh-so sad.

If you're still not convinced, then peep this video below and chew on this line for a bit: "We all know your soft cause we've all seen you dancing/ We all know your hard cause we've all seen you drinking from noon until noon again."

P.S.- In case you were wondering, an Arab Strap is a sexual device for retaining an erection.

Belle & Sebastian- Dirty Dream Number Two
Belle & Sebastian- A Summer Wasting

"The Boy with the Arab Strap" Live on the Jools Holland Show

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